Start with the supposed moderator, Chris Wallace. It became obvious five minutes in that Donald Trump’s strategy was to interrupt, yell, insult, and disrupt as often as he could. This is a strategy that can work only if no one gets in the way of it, and Chris Wallace just let it go on. Maybe Wallace was caught by surprise by Trump’s bellicosity and primate-dominance. (But—c’mon.) Even so, two or three minutes of this should have been enough to adjust. He didn’t adjust. And he let Trump roll over him.
Maybe—I don’t know—the negotiated debate rules prevented Wallace from selectively cutting off the speakers’ mics. Even so, there are ways for the people supposedly in charge of an event to demonstrate that in fact they are in charge. Wallace made clear early on that he was not.
Trump’s instincts are taken from pro wrestling, as with his famous stunt of shaving Vince McMahon’s head. Thus Trump was unconstrained by norms or unenforced rules; Wallace did not enforce the rules, and the result, as it would be in a brawl or an unrefereed sporting match, was one person unconstrained by any of the norms of “allotted time” or “take your turn” or “respectful disagreement,” and another who was half the time constrained by those expectations, and the other half taking the bait in some way.
Will either side’s strategy pay off ? I can’t say. And—just for this second—I don’t care. I’ll think about that tomorrow.
But for tonight I’ll say this was a disgusting moment for democracy. Donald Trump made it so, and Chris Wallace let him. I hope there are no more debates before this election. If they happen, I won’t waste another minute of my life watching them.
The modern presidential debate was invented in 1960. We may have seen the end of its useful life this evening.
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