Chris Wallace opens up about 'off the tracks' presidential debate

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Chris Wallace, who moderated the first debate between President Trump and Joe Biden, called the faceoff “a terrible missed opportunity.”

Wallace said in his first interview since Tuesday’s debate that he “never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did.” The Fox News anchor said he went into the contest attempting to be as “invisible” as possible and said he was slow to realize that Trump was going to keep interrupting throughout.

The debate itself was widely panned as being disorderly, with Trump repeatedly cutting Biden off and Biden later reciprocating. Many on social media criticized Wallace for failing to control the debate.

“I’ve read some of the reviews, I know people think, well, gee, I didn’t jump in soon enough,” Wallace told the New York Times. “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.”

Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News speaks as President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland.

(Olivier Douliery/AP)

“You’re reluctant — as somebody who has said from the very beginning that I wanted to be as invisible as possible, and to enable them to talk — to rise to the point at which you begin to interject more and more,” Wallace said. “First to say, ‘Please don’t interrupt,’ then, ‘Please obey the rules,’ and third, ‘This isn’t serving the country well.’ Those are all tough steps at real time, at that moment, on that stage.”

Some on social media suggested that the moderators of the future debates should have the ability to mute the microphones of candidates who repeatedly interrupt. Wallace said he is not in favor of that.

“As a practical matter, even if the president’s microphone had been shut, he still could have continued to interrupt, and it might well have been picked up on Biden’s microphone, and it still would have disrupted the proceedings in the hall,” he said.

Trump and his supporters also criticized Wallace following the matchup, with the president tweeting about how he felt both Wallace and Biden were arguing against him.

“Chris had a tough night. Two on one was not surprising, but fun,” Trump said.

Fox News released a company-wide memo on Wednesday praising Wallace for his performance. The memo, signed by Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace, praised his “professionalism, skill, and fortitude in a unique situation.”

“No moderator could have managed a debate of that magnitude better than Chris,” they wrote.

Wallace said that after returning home from the debate, he has “been involved in a certain amount of soul-searching.”

“I’m disappointed for the country because it could have been a much more useful evening than it turned out to be,” he said.

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced on Wednesday that it plans to add additional rules for the next two debates between the two candidates.

“Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues,” the commission said in a statement.

The next two debates are scheduled for Oct. 15 and 22. A debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, is set for Oct. 7.

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