It’s safe to say Tuesday night’s presidential debate pleased just about no one — not fans of either incumbent Donald Trump, not fans of former vice president Joe Biden, and certainly not anyone who wanted a civil or at least non-noisy discussion. What everyone got instead was over 90 minutes of migraine-inducing crosstalk, with the sitting president constantly interrupting either Biden, who occasionally lost it, or moderator Chris Wallace. Another person who didn’t enjoy it? Chris Wallace.
Speaking to The New York Times the day after, the Fox News anchor — widely seen as one of the few genuinely bipartisan voices on the right-leaning news network — said he was “just sad with the way last night turned out,” calling it “a terrible missed opportunity.” He added, “I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did.”
The debate started off quietly, with both parties respecting the rule granting each one two minutes to speak, uninterrupted. That lasted about one volley. The infamously testy Trump quickly threw off the shackles of decorum, proceeding to interrupt either Biden or Wallace, by Slate’s estimate, at least 128 times. Wallace frequently had to chastise the president, ordering him to let Biden speak, but to no avail.
Wallace, who has been praised for standing up to Trump during rare non-softball Fox News interviews, was roasted online, but while he, too, deplored the end results, he didn’t think he was to blame.
“I’ve read some of the reviews, I know people think, Well, gee, I didn’t jump in soon enough,” Mr. Wallace said, his voice betraying some hoarseness from the previous night’s proceedings. “I guess I didn’t realize — and there was no way you could, hindsight being 20/20 — that this was going to be the president’s strategy, not just for the beginning of the debate but the entire debate.”
Recalling his thoughts as he sat onstage, with tens of millions of Americans watching live, Mr. Wallace said: “I’m a pro. I’ve never been through anything like this.”
He added, “Generally speaking, I did as well as I could, so I don’t have any second thoughts there. I’m just disappointed with the results. For me, but much more importantly, I’m disappointed for the country, because it could have been a much more useful evening than it turned out to be.”
The debate was so poorly received, so trying on the patience and the ears, that the Commission on Presidential Debates put out a statement, saying that “additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates.” (They did praise Wallace, though, thanking him for bringing “professionalism” to a debate that sorely needed more of it.) Of course, you try to tame Trump.