In the wake of the first presidential debate, a volatile muddle of crosstalk and insults that moderator Chris Wallace called "a terrible missed opportunity," the remaining campaign-season debates will see "additional structure … to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues," organizers said Wednesday
The first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden was held Tuesday night in Cleveland with Wallace, the Fox News Sunday host, asking the questions.
Almost immediately, however, Trump began interjecting and interrupting both the moderator and his rival.
Wallace repeatedly urged him to follow the rules of the discussion and to stop talking over them, but to no avail, as Biden responded with open disdain and dismissal. He called Trump a "clown" and chided him for the heckling, saying it was "unpresidential."
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Wednesday that the remaining events would be different and, hopefully, more respectful.
"The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly," the group said in its statement on Wednesday. "The Commission is grateful to Chris Wallace for the professionalism and skill he brought to last night’s debate and intends to ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates."
In an interview Wednesday with the The New York Times, Wallace, a longtime Fox News anchor who has previously hosted debates, said he had been caught off guard by Trump's insistent aggression.
“If I didn’t try to seize control of the debate — which I don’t know that I ever really did — then it was going to just go completely off the tracks,” he 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," Wallace told the Times.
Ahead of the face-off between the candidates, Wallace had said his job "was to be as invisible as possible. I’m trying to get them to engage, to focus on the key issues, to give people at home a sense of ‘why I want to vote for one versus the other.’ "
His attempts at reining in Trump and keeping Trump and Biden focused on his topics drew criticism from many online, including some celebrities and some of Fox News' opinion hosts. But he also had defenders.
"Sometimes you just want to go, ‘You know what? Shut up.’ You can’t do it. You got to try to find the way to get it all out and do it in a good way, be calm. It was amazing," The View's Whoopi Goldberg said Wednesday. "If you take a look at what he was dealing with here. You think we’re rough on The View?”
Wallace also had this to say to the moderators for the remaining debates: "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."
Who Are the Moderators?
USA Today's Susan Page will host the debate between Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden's running mate, on Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City.
Page, the newspaper's Washington, D.C., bureau chief and recent author of a biography on Barbara Bush, said, "The debates are a crucial part of making our democracy work, and I am honored to participate."
Steve Scully, C-SPAN's political editor and senior executive producer, will host the Oct. 15 presidential debate in Miami, which will be conducted as a town hall with some 30 undecided voters.
"My role is really to facilitate their [the voters'] questions, not to tell them what to ask," Scully said earlier this month, adding, "The town hall meeting is unique because it's really more of a facilitator role, to listen carefully, to follow up, to make sure the president, Joe Biden … that they follow the rules."
There will also be questions from C-SPAN's audience and the public, Scully said then. He said he was aiming for "very direct questions" with "very direct answers."
NBC News' Kristen Welker, a White House correspondent and co-anchor of Weekend Today, will host the final debate, on Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.
"She's one of the hardest-working people at this network and she's gonna be terrific at that job. It's gonna be great," Today anchor Hoda Kotb said after Welker was announced.
"What an honor it is," Welker said earlier this month. "Right now I'm focused on a stack of briefing books about this high. Lots of reading — the real work begins."
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