Here's How Chris Wallace Really Feels About The Debate

If you've been in "the business" since 1975 and covered just about every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan (via The New York Times), you'd think you'd have seen it all. But Chris Wallace, who moderated the first presidential debate Tuesday night in Ohio, is proof that there is a first time for everything — even for veteran newspeople. As he told The New York Times, "I'm a pro. I've never been through anything like this."

If we thought what we saw on television was traumatizing, we didn't really think about it from Wallace's perspective. When he first saw President Donald Trump engage with former Vice President Joe Biden, he explained, "I thought this was great — this is a debate!" Then things took a turn for the worse. "If I didn't try to seize control of the debate — which I don't know that I ever really did — then it was going to just go completely off the tracks," he said.

"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," he 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."

Conservatives are unhappy with the way they say the president was treated

Social media on both sides of the political aisle might have been merciless in their judgement of Chris Wallace's handling of the debate, but some of the harshest criticisms came from Wallace's own colleagues at Fox News. Bill O'Reilly's tweets, which were picked by The Hollywood Reporter, praised the president for his comments, saying, "Good line from Trump — he tells Chris Wallace he's debating him, not Joe," and "Chris Wallace doesn't have the facts at his command about the Ukraine payments made to Biden's son that Trump brought up. Big mistake by Mr. Wallace." Actor James Woods was picked up tweeting, "Chris Wallace is shamelessly biased. It's a beautiful demonstration of fake news in action. I'm actually glad it's happening, because you can see it for yourself." Ann Coulter said,  "Every time Trump is nailing Biden, Chris Wallace interrupts. 'That's the next topic!'"

Wallace defended himself, saying (via The New York Times), "I've read some of the reviews. I know people think, well, gee, I didn't jump in soon enough. 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."

Changes to the debate may be coming

The Commission on Presidential Debates has already said it would bring "additional tools" on board to try and keep the chaos — which viewers are describing as more of a barroom brawl than an intellectual discourse — from happening again. "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 says. It adds that the changes will be announced "shortly". 

Team Trump has already objected to the yet-to-be-announced changes, because they say their candidate would be treated "unfairly" as a result. "They're only doing this because their guy got pummeled last night. President Trump was the dominant force and now Joe Biden is trying to work the refs. They shouldn't be moving the goalposts and changing the rules in the middle of the game," campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh says (via USA Today). 

A mute button is not the answer: Wallace

Whatever it is the commission is considering, Wallace doesn't think a mute button can be considered a practical solution to the second and third debates (which both sides have already agreed to do). "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. Besides, he said cutting off a presidential candidate could have unforeseen consequences, simply because both candidates have the support of millions of viewers and voters.

Regardless, Wallace says the debate presented a "terrible missed opportunity" and he's sad with the way things turned out (via The New York Times). He's already warning C-SPAN'S Steve Scully, who will moderate the next debate on October 15, and Kristen Welker of NBC News who takes the helm of the last debate to be on their guards. "If either man goes down this road, I hope you'll be quicker to realize what's going on than I was. I didn't have that advance warning," he said.

The debate didn't move the needle for either candidate

After all was said and done, will what happened Tuesday even make a difference? Twitter might have lit up with voices from both sides vowing support for both Donald Trump and Joe Biden, but the debate actually didn't end up moving the needle very much. The director for the University of Virginia Center for Politics Larry Sabato told NBC that several post-debate polls show the political circus act that played out on television didn't change the standings of either candidate. "We are so polarized, we're so tribal in politics today. We're so fixed on what we want, and who we support that my guess is this is not going to have a major impact on the vote. I've already seen one private poll and two public ones that suggest exactly that," Sabato said. "This election is about Donald Trump. Everybody knows it. It's a referendum on Donald Trump."