Fox News anchor Chris Wallace was surprised by the ugly contentiousness of the first 2020 debate between President Trump and his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, on Tuesday, but he believes the clash still offered viewers plenty of insights about the two candidates.
“Obviously it was not the debate I had planned for, and to that degree I was disappointed,” Wallace, 72, said Wednesday in a telephone interview with The Times. “I think debates are about revealing what [the candidates] think. You certainly gained an insight into Donald Trump and what he’s thinking and where he wants to take the country and how he wants to take the country there. To that degree I thought it was a success. It may not have been pretty, but it was revealing.”
The chaos caused largely by Trump’s frequent interruptions led TV pundits and social media to describe the debate as the worst in American history. Wallace weathered criticism over his efforts to control the proceedings, although some analysts said it was a lost cause with Trump at one of the lecterns.
Wallace said he was initially encouraged when Trump and Biden exchanged views on whether to put forward a Supreme Court nominee before the election. He believed the candidates could have a freewheeling exchange instead of “parallel press conferences” that debates can turn into. But that hope was short-lived.
“My initial reaction was, ‘This is great. They’re going to go at it, and I can take the evening off,'” Wallace said. “But you know, it became clear at a certain point that the president wasn’t planning to back off and was going to keep interrupting throughout the evening.”
The evening did elicit a moment that could go down as one of the most stunning answers in presidential debate history.
Wallace offered Trump the chance to denounce white supremacist groups — something the president has been under pressure to do since he said in 2017 that there were “good people on both sides” following a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va.