It all started off as planned. The first presidential debate flowed smoothly, the two candidates engaged each other respectfully, and the moderator allowed the conversation to unfold naturally.
And then the second minute arrived.
Last night’s train wreck had more than one author. Donald Trump repeatedly interrupted, even when it would have been smarter to let his opponent tie himself up in knots. At times, especially on taxes, Biden had difficulty with remaining on point — but Trump kept letting him off the hook by talking over him. Joe Biden didn’t do all that much better on interruptions or side interjections, plus Biden reverted to his own form by repeatedly calling Trump names such as “clown” or “fool,” and also repeatedly telling him to “shut up, man” or “shut your yap.” At times, it looked and sounded like a chess-board argument between two old men in the park.
However, the two old men playing chess last night were the only two who belonged in that argument. Rather than let the two candidates fight their way out themselves, moderator Chris Wallace kept repeatedly inserting himself in the middle, and kept scolding Trump while rarely if ever rebuking Biden. Trump did more interrupting, so a moderator would need to restrain Trump more, but never once did Wallace rebuke Biden for his own interjections or for the name-calling that Biden did.
Worse than that, Wallace broke the rules himself. Just before the debate, Fox Business Network’s Neil Cavuto explained that everyone had agreed that Wallace would not act as a fact checker on stage. If either man erred or lied, it was up to the other candidate to call that out, not the moderator. Within about the first half hour or so, Wallace began breaking that rule, fact-checking in real time, almost entirely with Trump — except on one notable occasion when Biden couldn’t remember which side of the Green New Deal he was on.