For much of the opening presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace looked like a man trying to stop a runaway train with his bare hands.
The contest between President Donald Trump and Vice President Joe Biden was chaotic from start to finish. With interruptions and interjections, Trump tried to throw his Democratic opponent off stride. Pleas, increasingly frustrated and loud, were the only tools Wallace had at his disposal to try to maintain control.
"Please let him speak, Mr President," Wallace tried more than once. The Fox News host pointed out he was the moderator, that he was the one to ask questions, that he hated to raise his voice but would. He reminded the president that his campaign had agreed to the ground rules.
For much of the time, it was futile.
"Chris Wallace's debate performance tonight is a great reminder that kindergarten teachers are underpaid," "The Daily Show" host Trevor Noah tweeted in the midst of the 90-minute encounter.
There was near unanimous disgust from commentators after the debate was over. Some, like CNN's Wolf Blitzer, wondered openly if the two remaining scheduled debates between the two men would actually happen.
CBS ran an instant poll of viewers and found 69% considered it annoying and just 17% found it informative.
"Chris Wallace did not act as a moderator, Donald Trump did not act as a debater," said MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace - no relation. "Donald Trump was the abuser and Chris Wallace was among the abused." Wallace tried to ask pointed questions to both men. He effectively asked Trump three times whether he accepted climate change, while also asking Biden whether his proposals to help the environment would hurt the economy.
He asked Trump why his administration sought to end racial sensitivity training in government, and questioned Biden about whether he should be using his influence to stop violence in a city like Portland, Oregon.
Despite the preparation, Wallace sometimes seemed to give up. At one point he told Trump he was going to ask a question about race, "but if you want to answer something else, you can." He would occasionally cut short answers or discussions that had a chance of being productive because he simply wanted to end the bickering and move on.
Meanwhile, Biden criticized Trump for failing to confront Russia over several issues including Moscow offering the Taliban bounties to kill US troops and termed Trump as a "puppy" of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
NBC News veteran Andrea Mitchell called the debate a disgrace. NBC's Chuck Todd called it a train wreck. CNN's Jake Tapper called it "a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck." "Trump's strategy tonight was to interrupt, to try to steamroll not only his opponent but also the moderator who was unable to keep control of the two candidates," said CBS News' Norah O'Donnell. "I think the question we're all asking tonight is, 'Can we really have two more of these?'" Fox News Channel's Brit Hume described Trump as a "bucking bronco." He said it was the type of performance that would appeal to the president's fans, but he didn't know whether it would expand his support.
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