Obviously, last night’s presidential debate was a train wreck. The debate gave everyone plenty of issues to react to today — from the outrageous tone and conduct during the debate, lies told, name-calling and insults, not condemning racist groups, not promising a peaceful transfer of power and much more.
But there seem to be two really disturbing reactions to the debate among the general public online today.
One reaction is people casting a wide net with their blame for the debate debacle. People saying it was a disgusting display by “both sides,” or people bemoaning a broken system. That’s too easy. That’s intellectually lazy among people in the middle and on the left, and it’s a cop out among those on the right, especially Trump supporters who know his conduct was absurd and outrageously unpresidential, but see this as a team sport and will justify voting for their team’s representative no matter what he does or what he stands for.
That mess of a debate wasn’t the fault of the American system. It wasn’t the fault of both candidates. It wasn’t even the fault of the moderator.
That mess was caused by Donald Trump.
Replace him in that debate with any other Republican candidate, and it’s a different debate. We have seen Chris Wallace moderate events that were not remotely like this. We have seen Joe Biden take part in dozens of debates that did not involve anything close to this madness. But Donald Trump’s appalling conduct at the debate is the same kind of behavior he has shown throughout his campaigns. Constant interrupting. Shameless lies. Childish name-calling. That’s him. Always.
The fault of last night’s debate lies squarely with Donald Trump. Claiming anything else is an attempt to avoid the obvious truth.
The other widespread reaction is to blame Chris Wallace for the chaos.
It’s easy to sit back on your comfortable couch, with no one watching and judging you, and — with the benefit of hindsight — criticize Wallace. Debate moderator is a tricky job, even when one of the candidates isn’t Donald Trump. Both camps are sure to criticize you as favoring the other one. You’ll be criticized as each candidate goes over their time, or interrupts, or lies, or continually tries to rebut rather than move on.
It’s easy to say he should have done a better job controlling Trump. But how would he have done that? He most likely had no control of the microphones, so it’s not like he could shut off Trump’s mic (although, thankfully, it sounds like that’s something the debate commission is considering for the upcoming debates). How else would he have controlled him? It’s not like he had a taser on him (although I’d be all for that).
I am no cheerleader for Chris Wallace. But I can’t fault him for last night. I felt, all things considered, he actually did an excellent job. Instead of being weak and worried that people would claim he wasn’t being fair, he strongly reprimanded Trump on several occasions, calling out Trump’s conduct, standing his own ground as moderator, demanding Trump stick to the rules he agreed to, and actually calling Trump out as the one doing most of the interrupting, a fact that was indisputably true.
Debate moderator is a tough, thankless job. When Donald Trump is involved, it’s a near impossible task. Wallace wasn’t perfect, but he handled it mostly pretty well, which is really all we can ask for.