This opinion piece published in the Oct. 8, 2020, edition of The Record.

 

 

One has to feel a little sorry for Fox News commentator Chris Wallace. He tried his best, but simply could not control the first presidential debate last week.

Many in politics, the media, even debate teachers, are calling last Tuesday’s event the worst-ever presidential debate.

Wallace offered, “I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did.”

The Commission on Presidential Debates says it’s adding new “tools to maintain order” to the upcoming debates.

Republican President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for the job, went at each other for 90 minutes. Many have described the debate as a schoolyard fight between a couple of second-grade boys.

Sadly, the first debate probably didn’t change the mind of one voter. If you are on Trump’s side, I’m sure you feel as if his bullying style won the debate. Conversely, if you feel Biden is the man for the job, then Tuesday reaffirmed your stance.

Pollster Lee Carter told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” that voters “felt like nobody won” the first presidential debate.

“When I asked who they thought won last night, a third said Biden, a third said Trump and a third said no one,” Carter said.

“I’ve never seen a third of people who watched a debate think no one won and I think that was the general sentiment of independent voters, I think that was the general sentiment of people who were undecided.”

I listened to a part of the debate on radio as I drove home from work. I hardly would call it a debate, at least not in the traditional sense. Both men interrupted the other, both called each other names and both acted far less than civil and dignified. Poor Chris Wallace tried, but could hardly get in a word.

One of the biggest moments, to me, came when the president was asked if he would finally condemn white supremacists who support him. He failed to do so. In fact, when he failed to speak out against the right-wing Proud Boys, they took it as a badge of honor.

Trump told the group to “stand back and stand by.”

Even the hosts of “Fox & Friends,” who rarely if ever speak against Trump, had to take notice the day after the debate.

“Donald Trump blew the biggest layup in the history of debates by not condemning white supremacists,” co-host Brian Kilmeade said. “I don’t know if he didn’t hear it, but he’s got to clarify that right away. That’s like, ‘Are you against evil?’”

Trump, in the past, has disavowed such groups, but only after pressure from the media or his own people.

Stephen Collinson wrote on CNN that “Trump’s behavior in his clash against Democratic nominee Joe Biden was responsible for easily the worst and most rancorous presidential debate in American history.”

The Poynter Institute for Media Studies described the debate this way: “A hot mess. A trainwreck. A dumpster fire. Constant interruptions. Constant talking over one another. Name-calling. Juvenile bickering.”

Fox News contributor Karl Rove said, “I’m not sure it was very edifying or enlightening for the viewers, particularly those who are figuring out who to vote for.”

Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) were scheduled to have their debate on Wednesday of this week.

And don’t forget, Trump and Biden are scheduled for debates on Oct. 15 and 22. With the president, first lady and others in his inner circle testing positive for Covid-19 last week, future debates are in question at this point.

Poynter wrote, “After Tuesday night’s debacle, you have to wonder if the country has the stomach for any more.”