Chris Wallace, the moderator for Tuesday’s presidential debate, told Fox News on Monday that he aimed to be “as invisible as possible” during the debate between president Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden.
Around six minutes in, it was clear that Wallace, who currently anchors “Fox News Sunday,” was not going to be able to stay invisible. Trump quickly derailed the roughly 90-minute debate — which was dedicated to critically important topics such as the Supreme Court, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and the integrity of the election — into a jumbled stream of insults, lies, and meandering anecdotes. Wallace frequently attempted to curtail Trump, who rarely let Biden speak uninterrupted, but with little success.
Underneath the avalanche of noise, Tuesday’s debate did manage to touch on several important topics and resulted in several stunning phrases, but if this is a sign of things to come, it’s hard to imagine that viewers will turn to future debates to learn anything meaningful about the two presidential candidates.
Moderating the 2020 presidential debates was never going to be an easy task, even for a lifelong journalist like Wallace, who received widespread praise for moderating the final debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. That said, Tuesday’s event made Trump’s etiquette during the 2016 debates — where he threatened to jail Clinton and refused to accept the outcome of the election if he lost — seem downright quaint.
Simply put, Trump did not stop talking. Despite Wallace’s frequent pleas, the president ranted and raved throughout almost the entirety of the roughly 90-minute event, including when Biden was attempting to answer questions. Biden and Wallace joked about Trump’s interruptions several times and Wallace eventually demanded that both candidates stop interrupting one another around 50 minutes in, which marginally improved things. But by then, it was far too little, too late.
It’s typical for candidates to cut into one another during debates, but Trump’s nonstop interventions made it nigh-impossible to gleam any serious insight about either candidate’s policy ideas. That might’ve been Trump’s intent, and it’s unclear how the Biden campaign will capitalize on the high-profile event, but for Wallace and the debate organizers, it was an unmitigated embarrassment.
It’s not surprising that Trump ignored the traditional rules of debate, but the president’s lack of candor appeared to catch both Wallace and Biden — who was effectively sidelined for much of the event — off-guard. It’s easy to say that this should’ve been something that either Wallace or the Commission on Presidential Debates, which runs the event, prepared for, but in their defense, it’s also hard to imagine an effective solution sans cutting a candidate’s microphone if they continually ignore the rules of the debate.
Turning off a candidate’s microphone at a debate would be an unprecedented move, but one way or another, it’s clear that moderators for the upcoming debates will need to take more drastic measures if they wish to ensure that the debate rules are actually followed.
Though Wallace was not effective at reigning Trump in during Biden’s remarks, the moderator did an admirable job of asking both candidates a variety of tough questions. Biden’s environmental policies were repeatedly questioned (he stated that he does not support the Green New Deal), while Trump was grilled on key issues he’s rarely forced to address, such as attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act without offering a replacement plan, holding rallies with large crowds during the coronavirus pandemic, and ending federal agencies’ racial sensitivity trainings.
Furthermore, Wallace did not hesitate to ask similarly tough follow-up questions or demand a candidate answer questions they had dodged. Wallace also deserves praise for asking the candidates about climate change and environmentalism (critical issues that have been largely overlooked throughout the election season and weren’t expected to be brought up during the Tuesday debate) and the New York Times’ recent report that Trump only paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2017, which was published after Tuesday’s debate topics were unveiled.
Tuesday’s debate will be followed by the sole vice-presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence on Wednesday, October 7. A second presidential debate will be held Thursday, October 15 and the third and final debate will be hosted Thursday, October 22.
The 2020 presidential election will be held November 3.
Tuesday’s debate can be viewed in full below: