Fox News presenter Chris Wallace was taken aback by the horrific controversy of the first debate of 2020 between President Trump and his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, on Tuesday, but he believes the clash still has offered viewers a lot of information about the two candidates.
“Obviously, this was not the debate I had expected, and to this degree I was disappointed,” Wallace, 72, said Wednesday in a phone interview with The Times. “I think the debates are about revealing what [the candidates] think. You have certainly had a glimpse of Donald Trump and what he thinks and where he wants to take the country and how he wants to bring the country there. To that extent, I thought it was a success. It might not be pretty, but it was revealing. “
The chaos caused in large part by Trump’s frequent interruptions has led TV and social media pundits to describe the debate as the worst in American history. Wallace has resisted criticism of his efforts to control the procedure, although some analysts have said it was a lost cause with Trump at one of the desks.
Wallace said he was initially encouraged when Trump and Biden exchanged views on whether to nominate a Supreme Court candidate ahead of the election. He believed that the candidates could have a free exchange instead of “parallel press conferences” which the debates can turn into. But this hope was short-lived.
“My first reaction was, ‘This is great. They’re going to get on with it, and I can take the evening, ”Wallace said. “But you know, it became clear at one point that the President had no intention of backing down and was going to continue to interrupt throughout the evening.”
The evening sparked a moment that could be considered one of the most astonishing responses in the history of the presidential debate.
Wallace offered Trump the chance to speak out against white supremacist groups – something the president has been pressured for since he said in 2017 that there were “good people on both sides” following a rally neo-Nazi in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Trump did not seize the opportunity, and his comment that a right-wing group, the Proud Boys, should “step back and be ready” was immediately adapted as a rallying cry on social media. Members of the administration tried to rationalize the president’s words throughout the day.
“I think people will read what they want in it,” Wallace said. “What was clear to me was that the vice president and I repeatedly gave him a direct opportunity to call on the Proud Boys and white supremacists and he refused to do so.”
Overall, Wallace said Trump’s behavior on stage at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland became an obstacle to questioning the two candidates.
“While I think there were a lot of interesting things going on in the debate, I had really prepared myself for a serious political discussion,” Wallace said. “The interruptions prevented substantive discussion of serious issues and follow-up to those issues. I thought it was wasting a lot of time.
Wallace discovered that Trump’s willingness to continue interrupting “curious” after it became apparent that Biden, prone to goofing off in his public appearances, was not going to be shaken by the strategy.
“Trump never went to Plan B,” Wallace said. “He stayed on Plan A all evening, and I don’t think it served him particularly well.”
After the debate, Biden approached Wallace and whispered in his ear, “I bet you didn’t think you signed up for a boxing match.” Trump nodded to Wallace but didn’t say anything to the moderator before leaving the stage.
Wallace was also attacked by Trump on Twitter, accusing the moderator of siding with Biden. The beards weren’t a surprise.
“Have you been around for four years?” Said Wallace, whose journalism is cited for its impartiality among the conservative commentators who run the big ratings issued by Fox News.
Wallace, who hosts the weekly Washington roundtable show “Fox News Sunday,” said he has received praise from his colleagues at Fox News and from his parent company, Fox Corp.
Lachlan Murdoch, Executive Chairman and CEO of Fox Corp .; Suzanne Scott, Executive Director of Fox News Media; and Jay Wallace, president of Fox News Media, toasted Wallace and his team at the airport with champagne before they left Cleveland.
“Lachlan Murdoch came from California to Cleveland for the debate, and we had a discussion afterwards, and he couldn’t have been more supportive of the job I did,” Wallace said.
Wallace’s presence as a moderator helped give Fox News the largest audience of any network for the debate, with 17.8 million viewers. About 73 million viewers watched on all networks that broadcast the event, according to Nielsen, a significant drop from the 84 million who watched Trump’s first debate with Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The Presidential Debates Committee also praised Wallace’s performance, but said it would consider changing the formats during the next two meetings between Trump and Biden, scheduled for October 15 and 22.
“Last night’s debate made it clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues,” the committee said in a statement. “The CPD will carefully review the changes it adopts and announce these measures shortly.”
Wallace was skeptical of some of the adjustments he heard the committee was considering, such as muting a candidate’s microphone or changing speaking time if there was an interruption.
“The idea that you’re going to mute their microphone – that’s a pretty tough call,” Wallace said. “I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to do it, so on a practical level I wonder if it will work. It just seems like a bridge too far to me.