2020 presidential debate
October 1, 2020

The first 2020 presidential debate was a "total mess," primarily because of President Trump, moderator Chris Wallace says.

Wallace spoke on Fox News on Thursday two days after moderating the first 2020 debate between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, which was widely considered a trainwreck and frequently went off the rails as Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and Wallace when it wasn't his turn to speak.

"The president was determined to try to butt in and throw Joe Biden off," Wallace said. "He bears the primary responsibility for what happened on Tuesday."

Wallace noted that Biden did some interrupting, as well, but "less than half" as much as Trump. By about 45 minutes into the debate, Wallace said he realized what "a total mess and disservice this was to the country," and he lamented that the more orderly discussion of the issues he had extensively prepared for didn't take place.

"I had baked this beautiful, delicious cake, and then frankly, the president put his foot in it," Wallace said. "And that was frustrating."

The organizers of the 2020 presidential debates on Wednesday announced they'd be considering changes as a result of Tuesday's chaos, and one that has been suggested is the ability for moderators to mute the candidate's microphones. Wallace, though, told Fox this would put moderators in a "tough spot" and might not help much, since if Trump's microphone had been cut on Tuesday, "the president still would have been disrupting and distracting Biden." Brendan Morrow

October 1, 2020

Joe Biden got mixed reviews for his performance in Tuesday night's presidential debate, but President Trump's show was almost universally panned. He was panned by voters, former Trump voters, undecided voters, people who helped him prepare for the debate, even Rush Limbaugh. The small list of people who approved of Trump's performance include Trump, Sean Hannity, and the far-right white nationalist Proud Boys group. Still, Trump said twice Wednesday that it is Biden who wants to cancel their next two debates.

Biden's campaign had immediately recommitted to the final two debates after the first one wrapped up, suggesting that maybe Trump would bow out. Trump didn't actually say he will show up, so make of his comments what you will.

The debate commission is working on new tools to constrain the candidates from interrupting and overstepping their time. Peter Weber

September 30, 2020

Fox News' Chris Wallace received mixed reviews for his performance as the moderator for the first 2020 presidential debate. Some analysts blamed him for failing to keep things under control, while others believe he did the best he could. For his part, Wallace said he's "just sad with the way" it all turned out.

In an interview with The New York Times, Wallace spoke candidly about the situation, admitting that he felt desperate while trying to prevent the candidates from interrupting each other. He also said he didn't realize until it was too late that President Trump wasn't planning to stop ignoring the ground rules (Wallace refused to say whether Trump deserved the primary blame for how things unfolded). "I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did," he told the Times, adding that, despite his lengthy journalism career, "I've never been through anything like this."

Afterwards, Wallace had no desire to celebrate, though he did reluctantly accept a glass of champagne from his producers at the airport. He said he's "been involved in a certain amount of soul-searching" since returning home. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

September 30, 2020

Some of President Trump's staunchest supporters didn't love his debate performance.

During Tuesday night's first presidential debate, Trump barely let Democratic nominee Joe Biden — or moderator Chris Wallace — get a word out. He meanwhile refused to denounce white supremacy or answer questions about his taxes, leading some Fox News hosts and even members of Trump's own party to call out his missteps.

Asked Wednesday, several Republican senators had brief criticisms for the debate. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) described the faceoff as a "sh-tshow," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) called it "awful," and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) recommended the president "restrain himself a little" next time. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) meanwhile said "I thought it was an embarrassment," though it wasn't clear if he and the other senators were calling out Trump, Biden, Wallace, or the debate as a whole.

Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh was a little softer on Trump, but he still had some criticism. "He had a strategy, and the strategy didn't work. But he had a strategy. And he undermined his own strategy," Limbaugh said Wednesday. Kathryn Krawczyk

September 30, 2020

The first 2020 presidential debate was so chaotic that its organizers are already considering changes that might allow for a "more orderly discussion" in the next two.

The Commission on Presidential Debates in a statement on Wednesday said that Tuesday's presidential debate, the first match-up between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, "made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues." The organization said it will be "carefully considering" changes to adopt and will announce them "shortly."

Tuesday's messy debate was widely panned among pundits, and it frequently descended into chaos as Trump interrupted Biden. The debate's moderator, Chris Wallace, asked the president to abide by the established rules and reminded him that "your campaign agreed that both sides would get two-minute answers, uninterrupted."

While Wallace received some criticism for his performance during the debate, the Commission on Presidential Debates said it's "grateful" for his "professionalism and skill." At the same time, the commission said it "intends to ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates."

The organizers did not clarify what "additional tools" might be considered, although as the debate was underway, a frequent suggestion was to allow the moderator to mute a candidate's microphone if they interrupt their opponent. The next presidential debate is scheduled to take place on Oct. 15. Brendan Morrow

September 30, 2020

Viewers apparently couldn't peel their eyes away from the first presidential debate Tuesday night.

Despite widespread criticism of the chaos that unfolded on stage, the final 15 minutes actually rated slightly higher than the opening 15 minutes, and audiences fell just 2 percent from the 9:30 p.m. ET peak by the time it all wrapped up, Nielsen data shows. So, even if they were disappointed with what they witnessed, it seems like those who tuned in were prepared to finish what they started and stay engaged with the national political moment.

Overall, though, Tuesday's ratings across the major networks dropped significantly from 2016's first presidential debate. Tim O'Donnell

Opinion
September 30, 2020

In one barely remarked upon moment of the debate Tuesday night, President Trump seemingly boasted about the police killing of Michael Reinoehl. "I sent in the U.S. Marshals to get the killer of a young man … They took care of business," he gloated.

The background here is that Reinoehl allegedly shot and killed Aaron Danielson, a member of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, during violent clashes in Portland that Patriot Prayer and other Trump supporters deliberately incited. Reinoehl seemingly told Vice that the killing was in self-defense, but when he was found by Washington state police and U.S. marshals, they shot him to death within seconds.

Two witnesses and the police said that Reinoehl pointed a gun at them, but another witness said that Reinoehl was simply executed by police without any kind of warning or attempt at arrest, and one of the first two witnesses has since recanted his story. (The police, of course, are notoriously dishonest about their use of force.) At a minimum, it is disturbingly plausible to believe this was a straight-up political assassination.

At any rate, Trump clearly does not care that Reinoehl was killed without trial or due process of any kind. In an earlier interview on Fox News, he said, "This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him. And I'll tell you something — that's the way it has to be. There has to be retribution." Naturally, Trump has also defended Kyle Rittenhouse, the Trump-supporting vigilante who shot three people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, two of them fatally.

Whether someone is a violent criminal or a decent person seemingly hinges on only one thing in Trump's mind: whether they support him politically. Ryan Cooper

September 30, 2020

President Trump's team doesn't think he did anything wrong at Tuesday's night's debate, especially when it came to denouncing white supremacists.

Trump's refusal to denounce far-right extremists led even Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade to declare the president blew "the biggest layup in the history of debates" and ask Trump to "clear it up." But when Fox News tried to do just that with White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah on Wednesday morning, Farah said "I don't think that there's anything to clarify. He told them to stand back."

Trump campaign press secretary Hogan Gidley also didn't think there was anything wrong with Trump telling the far-right Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by." "He wants them to get out of the way," Gidley said.

But Proud Boy members didn't take it that way. As NBC News reports, the group's chat rooms and social media accounts lit up with praise for Trump after his refusal to denounce them, and some even turned Trump's words into a meme and rallying cry, calling Trump the "general of the Proud Boys." Kathryn Krawczyk

See More Speed Reads