No Rigged Debate Here: Moderator Chris Wallace Wins the Night
Chris Wallace of FOX was, by far, the best moderator so far, according to the growing media consensus.
The Hill reports:
The reviews are in for moderator Chris Wallace.
And let’s just say that we haven’t seen a media harmony and consensus over one guy like this since Sully landed that plane in the Hudson River.
Chris Wallace did Fox proud (Politico)
Fox’s Chris Wallace a debate night winner (USA Today)
Chris Wallace, Mixing Humor With Scolding, Guides Final Debate (New York Times)
So the consensus from publications — even those of the left leaning variety — is clear: Chris Wallace of Fox News was the clear winner of last night’s debate. And following a summer when the network dominated headlines for all the wrong reasons in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against its now-former Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, Wallace’s impeccable performance couldn’t have come at a better time.
The upgrade from debate moderators of the recent past came very early in the debate, exemplified by this textbook pivot Wallace employed in an effort to fact-check Trump without injecting himself into the debate:
TRUMP: Hillary Clinton wanted the wall. Hillary Clinton fought for the wall in 2006 or thereabouts. Now, she never gets anything done, so naturally the wall wasn’t built. But Hillary Clinton wanted the wall.
WALLACE: Well, let me — wait, wait, sir, let me…
TRUMP: We are a country of laws. We either have — and by the way…
WALLACE: Now, wait. I’d like to hear from…
TRUMP: Well — well, but she said one thing.
WALLACE: I’d like to hear — I’d like to hear from Secretary Clinton.
CLINTON: I voted for border security, and there are…
TRUMP: And the wall.
CLINTON: There are some limited places where that was appropriate. There also is necessarily going to be new technology and how best to deploy that.
Wallace could have jumped in here — if he had the information cold — to defend Clinton on X, Y, Z regarding her past positions and comments on immigration if warranted.
But the moderator — who said prior to the debate that he wasn’t there to fact-check, a declaration that brought misguided criticism to somehow mean that he simply would let untrustworthy candidates like Trump and Clinton roam free — instead simply allowed Clinton to defend herself.
This was a preview of things to come the entire evening in terms of the way Wallace would conduct this debate. And if future debate moderators from the networks are smart, they’ll watch this pivot technique — a rather basic one that does require putting ego and a need for attention aside — and employ it when we get to do this again a few dozens times starting in 2019.
The 69-year-old host of “Fox News Sunday” also clearly did his homework in terms of the range of questions asked and going with those somehow not asked in the 270 minutes-plus of debate that occurred before this one, when including the vice presidential debate.
This was apparent from the get-go by actually leading with a question about the Supreme Court:
WALLACE: Let’s get right to it. The first topic is the Supreme Court.
You both talked briefly about the court in the last debate, but I want to drill down on this, because the next president will almost certainly have at least one appointment and likely or possibly two or three appointments.
Which means that you will, in effect, determine the balance of the court for what could be the next quarter century.
First of all, where do you want to see the court take the country? And secondly, what’s your view on how the Constitution should be interpreted? Do the founders’ words mean what they say or is it a living document to be applied flexibly according to changing circumstances? In this segment, Secretary Clinton, you go first. You have two minutes.
Many reluctant Trump supporters or those attempting to push those on the fence always point to this very topic as a reason to vote for the flawed candidate, yet we haven’t heard a peep about it on this kind of stage until last night. Solid lead.
Immigration — a topic that dominated the primaries and much of this year — was finally broached as well, along with questions on the federal deficit and late-term abortion, among others that checked off many boxes: The WikiLeaks revelations around Clinton calling for open borders, which Wallace allowed her to define, and allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump by several women were the other elephants Wallace cleared out of the room.”
Toward the end of the 90-minute event, Wallace also challenged Trump on whether he would accept the results of the election if he loses, a reluctance both Republicans and Democrats alike have scolded him on for even broaching the “R” word: rigged.
WALLACE: Your running mate, Gov. [Mike] Pence, pledged on Sunday that he and you — his words — “will absolutely accept the result of this election.” Today your daughter, Ivanka, said the same thing. I want to ask you here on the stage tonight: Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely — sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?
TRUMP: I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time.
What I’ve seen — what I’ve seen is so bad. First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt, and the pile-on is so amazing. The New York Times actually wrote an article about it, but they don’t even care. It’s so dishonest. And they’ve poisoned the mind of the voters.
But unfortunately for them, I think the voters are seeing through it. I think they’re going to see through it. We’ll find out on Nov. 8. But I think they’re going to see through it.
WALLACE: But, sir, there’s…
TRUMP: If you look — excuse me, Chris — if you look at your voter rolls, you will see millions of people that are registered to vote — millions, this isn’t coming from me — this is coming from Pew Report and other places — millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn’t be registered to vote.
So let me just give you one other thing. So I talk about the corrupt media. I talk about the millions of people — tell you one other thing. She shouldn’t be allowed to run. It’s crooked — she’s — she’s guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run.
And just in that respect, I say it’s rigged, because she should never…
TRUMP: Chris, she should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with emails and so many other things.
WALLACE: But, sir, there is a tradition in this country — in fact, one of the prides of this country — is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign that the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying that you’re necessarily going to be the loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?
TRUMP: What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?
And with that, Trump’s answer — after a masterful reminder to Trump about American political tradition without being condescending or playing gotcha — is now your big post-debate headline.
Wallace was also tough with an audience just itching to turn the event into another edition of “The Voice” by turning around on several occasions to admonish the crowd. This is important, because if Clinton and Trump start feeding off applause, they become more difficult to control on stage. Time was kept well as a result. Even at one point, Wallace told an interrupting Trump, “I’m not a potted plant here. I do get to ask the questions.”
And ask questions he did.
And in the process, brought out the best debate performances by both candidates.
Chris Wallace not only did Fox proud last night. He also made those of us who still want to believe in the debate process proud as well.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr.