Chris Wallace of Fox News will be the moderator for the first presidential debate on Sep. 29 at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.
Democrats will, no doubt, complain about a Fox News moderator. Throughout the primary, they avoided the network, and Joe Biden has declined invitations to appear on Wallace’s show, Fox News Sunday.
Yet Wallace has been sharply critical of Trump, and may hope to reprise Megyn Kelly’s role from 2015.
In that memorable first Republican debate, Kelly confronted Trump with things he was alleged to have said about women: “Mr. Trump. One of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular when it comes to women. You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.”
He defused the attack — “Only Rosie O’Donnell” — and drew laughter from the audience.
But Kelly clearly hoped to take Trump out of the race early. The confrontation marked a turning point in her career at Fox. She later migrated to NBC News, where she was canceled — ironically — for offensive language (about blackface costumes).
Trump has sparred with Wallace in the years since, and has done fairly well. But Wallace has been sharply critical of the president and has praised Biden and the Democrats — arguably, to a fault.
For example, he praised Biden’s speech at the Democratic National Convention as “enormously effective,” failing to note that it was partly based on a proven lie, the Charlottesville “very fine people” hoax. In contrast, he panned Trump’s speech a week later as “surprisingly flat.”
He also said that Trump risked being “left behind” by the “cultural shift” going on in the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests (and riots). Trump, in fact, consolidated support by standing up against violence and for American symbols.
During the impeachment trial, Wallace opined that Democrats had “made a powerful case” against the president, and he constantly overestimated the weight of the evidence. When new evidence suggested the FBI framed former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and that he had not lied at all, Wallace professed not to understand why people were rallying to his side.
He even once accused Trump of pushing “Kremlin disinformation” on Ukraine’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.
Wallace has not been shy to express direct criticisms of the president: “I believe that President Trump is engaged in the most direct, sustained assault on freedom of the press in our history,” he said last year, based on Trump’s criticism of the media.
He also accused Trump of the “worst kind of racial stereotyping” after he criticized then-Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) for the poor state of his Baltimore congressional district, calling it “rat-infested.” (The evidence seemed to match the accusation.)
Most recently, Wallace suggested that the Republican position on filling a vacant Supreme Court seat before an election was “hypocrisy.” After the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, Republicans — who held the Senate majority — denied then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing. Now that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away, the Democrats are trying to stop Trump from filling her seat.
In the intervening years, Democrats targeted Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, convincing moderate Republicans — including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — to change their minds. Wallace, notably (and shockingly), described Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony as “extremely credible.”
With that track record, Wallace can be expected to be tough on Trump — and perhaps to step out of a neutral role. He could prepare questions targeted at Trump, as Megyn Kelly did. Or he could try to do what former CNN anchor Candy Crowley did in 2012, during the second presidential debate, when she fact-checked Republican nominee Mitt Romney in real time. Only later did she admit that Romney had been right — President Barack Obama had not called Benghazi a terror attack after all.
The expectations for the first debate are already uneven: all Biden needs to do is remain standing for two hours, and he will be declared the winner — just as Wallace declared Biden triumphant after he survived his 24.5-minute convention speech. The question is whether Wallace will try to be fair, and let the candidates speak directly to each other and the American people — or whether he will try to emulate Megyn Kelly, and do his part to damage a president he clearly cannot abide.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.