Chris Wallace, the moderator of Tuesday night's chaotic first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, reportedly said Wednesday that he didn't realize early enough in the debate that Trump would keep disregarding the rules both campaigns agreed to.
"I guess I didn't realize — and there was no way you could, hindsight being 20/20 — that this was going to be the president's strategy, not just for the beginning of the debate but the entire debate," Wallace told the New York Times in an interview published Wednesday.
The Fox News Sunday host, who has decades of experience as a journalist and moderated a debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016, said "I've never been through anything like this." Other commentators Tuesday night said they had never seen a presidential debate like what happened Tuesday.
Wallace told the Times his concern grew as it became clearer Trump was not going to back down.
"If I didn't try to seize control of the debate — which I don't know that I ever really did — then it was going to just go completely off the tracks," Wallace told the Times.
Wallace said it was a moment of desperation when he stopped the debate entirely to ask the candidates to allow the other to speak because "the country would be better served."
Wallace added that he wanted to remain as invisible as possible, but the situation prevented it.
The moderator has received a mix of condemnation and sympathy for his handling of the debate. Critics say getting control of the candidates was part of Wallace's job, but others said he was in a no-win situation with Trump's unprecedented debate performance.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonpartisan group which has sponsored the debates since 1988, said Wednesday it would look at format changes in the future. One of the suggestions some are making is giving the moderator the ability to cut off microphones or designate a length of time each candidate can talk, thereby automatically cutting off the other candidate's mic.
Wallace told the Times that may still not work because, using Tuesday as an example, Trump could have continued to interrupt as Biden was trying to speak. Wallace said it would still have been disruptive inside the debate hall.
Steve Scully of C-SPAN is set to moderate the second debate on Oct. 15 and NBC's Kristen Welker will moderate the final debate on Oct. 22. Before that, Susan Page of USA TODAY will moderate the vice-presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris on Oct. 7.