Fox News’ Chris Wallace said he’s “never been through anything” like the first debate on Tuesday between Joe Biden and Donald Trump and reflected on the “desperation” he felt from the moderator’s seat to gain control over the evening.
“I’m a pro. I’ve never been through anything like this,” Wallace told the New York Times on Wednesday. “I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did.”
The Fox News anchor, who flew home from Cleveland immediately after a debate, said he has since been doing “a certain amount of soul-searching” about an event he called a “terrible missed opportunity.”
“I’ve read some of the reviews, I know people think, Well, gee, I didn’t jump in soon enough,” Wallace said. “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.”
“What is Chris Wallace doing? He has no control over this debate. He asks a question and lets Trump continue yelling. This is a disgrace,” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough tweeted on Tuesday night.
Soledad O’Brien added, “Hellllo Chris Wallace??? Looking for a moderator here. Jesus Christ what a fricken mess,” Soledad O’Brien
Still, some commentators were more sympathetic to Wallace, particularly given that he was unable to mute or cut off any of the candidates’ microphones and because Trump repeatedly failed to follow the debate rules with his frequent interruptions.
“I got to say, Chris Wallace, you know, you held your own because you couldn’t get down in the dirt with them. You couldn’t yell at them. You couldn’t shut off the mic,” Whoopi Goldberg said on Wednesday’s “The View.” “I understand, I know how you felt, because sometimes you just want to go, ‘You know what? Shut up.’ You can’t do it.”
“The 90-minute debate fell, almost immediately, into chaos and cross-talking, not because Wallace isn’t a capable broadcast interviewer but because Trump was out of control,” The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan wrote in a column shortly after the debate. “Wallace needed, at the very least, a mute button. Maybe something stronger. A penalty box? A stun gun?”
Fox News also issued a statement in support of its star: “We are extremely proud of his professionalism, skill and fortitude in a unique situation while doing everything possible to hold both candidates accountable. No moderator could have managed a debate of that magnitude better than Chris.”
On Wednesday, the Commission on Presidential Debates commended Wallace for his “professionalism” and promised changes to the format and procedures of the remaining debates. CBS News reported that the commission will cut the mic of any candidate who interrupts an opponent during his allotted speaking time.
But Wallace himself was unsure whether the night would’ve gone smoother if he could have cut the candidates’ microphones. “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,” Wallace told the Times.
Wallace also offered advice to C-SPAN’s Steve Scully and NBC News’ Kristen Welker, moderators for the upcoming debates. “If either man goes down this road, I hope you’ll be quicker to realize what’s going on than I was,” Wallace said. “I didn’t have that advance warning.”
Alec Baldwin and 12 Other Actors Who've Played Donald Trump on Screen (Photos)
Phil Hartman, "Saturday Night Live" (1988-1990)
Long before Alec Baldwin donned a blond wig, the late Phil Hartman played Donald Trump in a series of sketches. The first mocked Donald and Ivana Trump (Jan Hooks) as out-of-touch rich people at Christmas-time, while later skits depicted the couple's tabloid divorce.
Darrell Hammond, "Saturday Night Live" (1999-2011)
Before Baldwin, Hammond was the go-to impersonator of Trump, starting with two sketches in 1989 and then off and on in multiple sketches over the next decade. He even returned to don a too-long red tie when Trump was guest host in 2015.
Louis Ferreira, "Trump Unauthorized" (2005)
The Portugese-born actor -- best known for his work on TV series like "Stargate Universe," "Breaking Bad" and "S.W.A.T." -- starred as the real estate mogul-turned reality star in a 2005 ABC movie.
Jason Sudeikis, "Saturday Night Live" (2012)
In a cold open parody of "Fox & Friends," Sudeikis channeled Trump criticizing President Barack Obama's handling of Hurricane Sandy. Ironically, he also played Joe Biden during the first years of the Trump administration.
Taran Killam, "Saturday Night Live" (2015)
After Trump announced his bid for the White House, Taran Killam grimaced his way through sketches as the (then) long-shot candidate in a series of episodes through the early months of the 2016 campaign.
Johnny Depp, "#FODTrumpMovie: Introducing Ivana" (2016)
The heavily made-up "Pirates of the Caribbean" star played an '80s-era Trump (opposite Micheala Watkins' Ivana) in a "found" video posted by Funny or Die in February 2016.
Funny or Die
Alec Baldwin, "Saturday Night Live" (2016-)
The former "30 Rock" star began playing Trump in October 2016 just one month before the mogul's surprise election victory -- and he has continued to lampoon the president throughout his presidency, often in the cold open that kicks off the show.
Bob DiBuono, "The Nightly Show Larry Wilmore Show" (2016)
Comedian Bob DiBuono has emerged as one of the leading Trump impersonators, appearing regularly on Larry Willmore's Comedy Central show as well as "Murphy Brown" and "The View."
Jimmy Fallon, "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" (2016-)
"SNL" alum Jimmy Fallon received far less favorable reviews for his own Trump impression on "The Tonight Show" -- as well as infamous hair-mussing of the then-candidate in a 2016 pre-election appearance.
Anthony Atamanuik, "The President Show" (2017-18)
Atamanuik won over critics with his Trump impression: "superior to (Alec) Baldwin’s in a handful of ways -- chiefly the hands, which he uses to punch the air while simultaneously reaching for a word that won’t quite come," Newsday critic Verne Gay wrote). But the series lasted only two seasons.
Brendan Gleeson, "The Comey Rule" (2020)
In Showtime's miniseries about the standoff between Trump and former FBI director James Comey, Irish actor Brendan Gleeson plays the Commander in Chief. "Gleeson kicks the program to life," New York Times critic James Poniewozik wrote. "His rendering of Trump’s wandering diction is the best I’ve seen outside a lip-sync. Half his performance is in his bearing, chin jutted forward like the prow of a swollen yacht."
Photo: Ben Mark Holzberg
Jeff Rector, "Bad President" (2020)
In this satire, the comedian plays a Trump who is seduced by the Devil himself (Eddie Griffin) to run for president.
Sarah Cooper, "Everything's Fine" (2020)
In her first Netflix special, comedian Sarah Cooper reprised the bit that made her famous: lip-syncing to audio of Donald Trump speaking. In one sketch, she re-created the infamous "grab her by the p---y" recording with Helen Mirren playing "Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush.
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Many actors have portrayed the real estate mogul turned outgoing Commander in Chief