Fox News host and presidential-debate moderator Chris Wallace faced his own mission impossible last night: to enforce the decorum of the first Trump-Biden debate and stop the president from constantly interrupting everyone around him. Wallace himself admitted defeat on Wednesday, saying the debate got off track after he was initially “reluctant” to keep Trump in line.
“I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did,” Wallace told the New York Times in a postmortem interview. He later added, “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.”
The Fox News Sunday host may be overstating his position. Any American who has caught a glimpse of the 2016 presidential debates, a White House press conference, or even a recent Trump interview with Wallace himself knows that the president’s sole tactic when engaging with anyone calling him to task is to deflect, interrupt, and lean on ad hoc jabs.
Nevertheless, the Commission on Presidential Debates — the nonprofit entity responsible for scheduling the contests and establishing their rules — felt Trump’s behavior necessitates a rule change. On Wednesday, the commission announced it would update its rulebook ahead of the next Trump-Biden debate on October 15. “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 stated, adding that the changes will “ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates.”
The CPD will reportedly include a measure with some real teeth, which many have called for in the wake of Tuesday night’s assault on the senses. CBS News reports the commission “plans to issue strict new rules in the coming days that include cutting off a candidate’s microphone if they violate the rules.”
Such a move would greatly improve the structure of the debate, allowing both candidates to speak at a reasonable length about their policy proposals and records — or to just complain about cars becoming too expensive “because they have computers all over the place.” Considering that Trump’s interruptions also marred his 2016 debates with Hillary Clinton, the only clear reason the CPD had not already granted moderators the awesome power of the dump button is that they feared Trump wouldn’t go along with the debates at all, as he threatened late last year.
While getting cut off would multiply Trump’s complaints of conservative bias, they could also aid his cause: According to multiple focus groups and rapid-response pundits, the president’s base also found his performance unpalatable.