Chris Wallace, who moderated the chaotic first presidential debate, appeared on Fox News’ Bill Hemmer Reports on Thursday to give his take on what happened with the event.
One thing is clear: The Fox News Sunday anchor blames Trump for the way things went, even as the president’s campaign has tried to accuse Joe Biden for over-interruptions.
Wallace acknowledged that the debate was “awful,” and quipped that he was working through “PTSD” in the aftermath.
But he said that one of the frustrations was that he was prepared for a coherent exchange of ideas. He said that he and his researcher spent hundreds of hours preparing materials on the candidates’ stances and plans.
“I was really hoping for the for the debate but I think America wanted to see, which was a serious exchange of views,” he said. “I felt like I had gotten together all of the ingredients. I had the baked this beautiful delicious cake. And then, frankly, the President put his foot in it, and that was frustrating. And it was frustrating for me because I tried hard to prepare for a serious debate, much more frustrating and more importantly for the American people because they didn’t get the debate they wanted, and that they deserved. And I think that’s, that’s a loss for the country.”
Wallace said that after he asked the first question about the Supreme Court and the interruptions began, “my initial reaction was, ‘This is great because so often these debates become parallel news conferences …So when the president started engaging with Biden I thought, ‘We’re going to have a real debate here.”
He said “it became clearer and clearer over time that this was something was something different and that the president was determined to try to butt in and throw Joe Biden off.”
He cited a Fox analysis that Trump interrupted Biden’s answers or his questions 145 times, “which is way more than one a minute.” Trump “bears the primary responsibility for what happened.”
He said that he tried to get Trump to stop and let Biden finish, and “then it kept escalating.”
“In the beginning I was cajoling. ‘Mr. President, wait a minute. I am going to ask a question that you are going to want to hear. I guess I did that twice. And then I began being more forceful, and then at a certain point, 45 minutes in, I called a halt to the debate for a moment and said, ‘You know, this really isn’t serving America, and please stop the interruptions, and the president said, well why don’t you admonish him. And I said, ‘Because you are doing a lot more of the interrupting Mr. President.'”
Wallace also expressed some doubts over one of the changes that reportedly have been considered by debate organizers to make the event more orderly.
He said that the idea of cutting off microphones of candidates may not even do the trick. Biden and Trump were six to eight feet from each other, and “even if you cut off the president’s mic, you still would have heard it over Biden’s, and in addition the president still would have been disrupting and distracting Biden.”
He said that it should be the role of a moderator to decide when to cut off a candidate’s mic.
“Boy, I don’t want to be in the position of saying, ‘You know, I am going to interpose myself between the president and the public and say, ‘You can’t hear what he has to say now.’ I think that is a pretty tough spot to put any moderator in.”
He did have advice for C-SPAN’s Steve Scully, who will moderate the next presidential debate on Oct. 15. That will be a town hall format, meaning that questions will be coming from an audience of undecided voters.
“I would say, ‘Take the citizens. Take the real people that are going to be there and use them as a shield. And look, maybe it will be Biden interrupting Trump this time. If you feel it is unruly, say look, ‘These are real people with real problems. Let them ask their questions and let the other person answer their questions.”
Asked if he has gone back and watched Tuesday’s debate, Wallace told Hemmer, “Oh God no.”