Whatever oddities and outrages occur during the rest of Tuesday's first general election debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the problem is unlikely to be the moderator, Fox News host Chris Wallace. In the grand scheme of plausible debate moderators — not our fantasy picks, but people who might actually be chosen for the role — Wallace is about the best we'll get.
His first advantage is he is widely considered a real journalist. That is, in marked contrast to many of his fellow hosts on Fox, Wallace evinces an interest in truth and reportage. He is not merely an opinionator, and he is not a hack.
Wallace's second advantage is the simple fact of being an old (though, at 72, younger than Trump or Biden) white guy from Fox. He said on his show, Fox News Sunday, this past weekend that he aims to be "as invisible as possible" during this debate, and his identity will help. Trump is notorious for mocking personal characteristics of people who irritate him, and he seems to particularly relish lashing out at those he considers lesser than himself, especially women, minorities, and progressives. Facing Wallace, who in a superficial demographic sense is quite similar to Trump, the president may find such gross and distracting attacks more difficult to land. He cannot, for example, accuse Wallace of having "blood coming out of her wherever."
Finally, Wallace won't perform live fact checking this evening, acting on the direction of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is run by the Democratic and Republican Parties. But his history of interaction with Trump and members of his administration suggests Wallace won't go easy on the candidates, and neither will he be cowed by their bluster. In a July interview with Trump, Wallace fact checked him repeatedly, antagonizing Trump to the point of declaring the journalist "fake news." In 2018, he taught Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that line-item vetoes are unconstitutional live on air, and in 2019, he factually steamrolled White House senior adviser Stephen Miller's claim that there's a national emergency on the southern border.
Wallace's debate questions will be as tough and pragmatic as we can hope for in a modern debate. If (when?) the evening descends into lies and drivel, don't blame the moderator.
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