Moderator Chris Wallace Calls Debate ‘a Terrible Missed Opportunity’

Care to elaborate? “No,” Mr. Wallace said. “To quote the president, ‘It is what it is.’”

In the spotlight, Mr. Wallace was keenly aware of the complexity of his task: ensuring an evenhanded debate, avoiding taking sides, allowing candidates to express themselves while keeping the discussion substantive.

“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,” Mr. Wallace 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.”

The Commission on Presidential Debates said on Wednesday that it would examine changes to the format of this year’s remaining encounters between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, a clear sign of its frustration with the results of Tuesday evening. The commission also took pains to praise Mr. Wallace for his “professionalism and skill.”

The suggestion that moderators be given the power to mute the candidates’ microphones — popular on social media in the hours after the event — did not sit well with Mr. Wallace.

“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.

And he noted that cutting off the audio feed of a presidential candidate is a more consequential act than some pundits give it credit for. “People have to remember, and too many people forget, both of these candidates have the support of tens of millions of Americans,” he said.

Steve Scully of C-SPAN is set to moderate the next debate, in a town-hall format where Florida voters will ask many of the questions. Kristen Welker of NBC News is the moderator for the final debate. Mr. Wallace’s advice: “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.”

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