Who won last night’s presidential debate? According to the reviews, the consensus winner wasn’t Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, but Chris Wallace. When a moderator draws kudos from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Free Beacon, it speaks to a performance of fairness and competence. Or perhaps, it just speaks to the quality of the competition.
FB’s Matthew Walther declares Wallace the winner on stage:
To his credit, Chris Wallace did far and away the best job of any of the moderators so far. There were eight TVs in the overflow center, none of which I could see very well, but Wallace seemed calm, disciplined, and, most important, keen on getting the thing over with.
NYT’s Michael Grynbaum credited Wallace with producing the most substantive debate of the cycle:
The first Fox News journalist chosen to moderate a general-election debate, Mr. Wallace mixed humor with scolding and persistence with patience to guide his charges toward the most substantive encounter of an unusually vicious election.
Mr. Wallace’s watchword for the evening, it seemed, was “defuse”: He posed detailed questions on policy, opened the proceedings with a calm query about Supreme Court jurisprudence and kept an eyebrow firmly arched as Mrs. Clinton, and more often, Mr. Trump, attempted to talk over him. …
Mr. Wallace’s demeanor came across as less aggressive than the interviewing style adopted by Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC News in last week’s debate, which also earned praise.
But his subtle yet firm approach felt designed to elevate the election season and invoke the broader civic consequences at stake. And it generated a debate that put the candidates’ substantive and stylistic contrasts on full display.
Paul Farhi dubbed Wallace “America’s hall monitor” at the WaPo:
Chris Wallace used a soft but insistent touch in moderating the third presidential debate, asking a series of substantive questions that produced fewer verbal fireworks from candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and perhaps the most policy-focused discussion of the vitriol-laced race.
It helped that Trump and Clinton remained relatively civil toward each other, with fewer interruptions and less cross talk than in their previous two meetings. As a result, Wallace spent less time policing the candidates than admonishing the audience to keep quiet.
Fact check: Doubtful. The video included with Farhi’s analysis shows that Wallace had more interactions with the candidates than the three times he admonished the audience:
Back to Farhi:
The debate marked the first time that Wallace, the son of legendary CBS newsman Mike Wallace, had ever moderated a presidential debate. He was a co-moderator for several Fox-sponsored Republican debates during the primaries.
It was also the first time that an anchor from Fox has been selected for the prestigious role — a coup for the network, which underwent a tumultuous summer with the ouster of its co-founder and chairman, Roger Ailes, over sexual harassment allegations.
Other than the “potted plant” remark, which was perhaps a wee bit too self-referential, Wallace hit all the marks last night. He did not get pulled into debating the candidates, offered tough questions to both, and appeared even-handed in enforcing the rules. His questions had a good rhythm and organization, unlike the strange stream-of-consciousness string of queries in the vice-presidential debate. Wallace exhibited a dry sense of humor that leavened the seriousness of the occasion just enough, and exhibited a stage presence that allowed him to keep the flow of the debate properly calibrated.
Because we have watched so many Republican primary debates, it had not occurred to me until the very start of the debate that Wallace had not moderated a general-election debate. Assuming the Commission on Presidential Debates continues to run these events, they should make Wallace a regular. Of the four debates, Wallace moderated the most well-run and informative of all. And that’s not just in the context of Wallace’s competitors, but on the merits of the performance itself.