"It could have been a much more useful evening than it turned out to be," the moderator said Wednesday

By Sean Neumann
September 30, 2020 06:16 PM
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Chris Wallace was dismayed with how Tuesday night's contentious presidential debate unraveled on his watch, he told The New York Times on Wednesday.

“I’m just sad with the way last night turned out," the Fox News Sunday anchor said.

Wallace found himself repeatedly out of control of the first debate, held Tuesday night in Cleveland, as Donald Trump and Joe Biden spent much of their 90 minutes arguing with, swiping at and talking over one another — a tone set by the president himself in the first few minutes on stage.

"I think that the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I am appealing to you, sir, to do that," Wallace told Trump at one point, adding, "Frankly, you've been doing more interrupting than he [Biden] has."

Wallace also repeatedly reminded Trump of the rules to which he had agreed, about when each candidate was allowed to speak and when it wasn't their turn.

But Wallace's pleas for order were unsuccessful as Biden responded to Trump's heckling with open disdain, calling him a "clown" multiple times and telling him to "shut up," saying Trump was being "unpresidential."

Trump, in turn, said the former vice president wasn't intelligent and he kept on interrupting Biden, including when the latter spoke about his son Beau, who died of brain cancer, so Trump could try to redirect the discussion to Biden's other son.

“I’ve read some of the reviews. I know people think, well, gee, I didn’t jump in soon enough,” Wallace told the 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," Wallace said, "not just for the beginning of the debate but the entire debate.”

President Donald Trump (left) and former Vice President Joe Biden at Tuesday's debate
| Credit: Morry Gash/Getty Images
Chris Wallace at Tuesday's presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump
| Credit: JIM WATSON/Getty Images
President Donald Trump at Tuesday night's debate with former Vice President Joe Biden
| Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Biden, 77, said Wednesday morning that the way Trump, 74, behaved during the debate was "a national embarrassment," while the Trump campaign said the president received unfair treatment from the media — particularly from Wallace, 72, during the debate.

“I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did,” the moderator told the Times, saying that Trump "certainly didn’t help."

Wallace didn't elaborate further on what he felt about Trump's behavior, but said: “To quote the president, ‘It is what it is.’ ”

“I’m a pro," said the longtime news anchor, who previously worked at ABC and NBC and who moderated a 2016 presidential debate to positive response. "I’ve never been through anything like this.”

The Commission on Presidential Debates lauded Wallace for his "professionalism" in a statement Wednesday, while announcing it would consider making changes to its format to avoid another primetime debacle in the remaining debates ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Both campaigns said Wednesday they will participate in the two remaining presidential debates, on Oct. 15 and Oct. 22.

Despite the much harsher mix of responses to Wallace's latest debate — defended by some journalists, castigated by some celebrities, and jabbed at even by some opinion hosts at his own network — he told the Times that "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," he said. "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.”