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The Wallace Factor

It’s no secret that Joe Biden has been lying low during the course of this Presidential campaign. 

His public appearances are infrequent at best.  When they occur, they are short and sparse as far as supporters go.  His press conferences are even more infrequent and when they occur, the reporters that ask the questions are usually hand picked and the questions (presumably) are pre-approved.  Sit down interviews?  Again, very rare and the questions are usually of the softball variety.  And the days where he has no activity at all have become the norm rather than the exception.

These facts are bad enough.  But Joe Biden has also frequently demonstrated throughout this campaign that he struggles to find the right words, he can’t remember facts and figures, and he has trouble maintaining a stream of thought.  All of this taken together has led many (including myself) to question his mental fitness. 

These questions about his mental fitness deserve an answer. And the ideal time for that answer to be given was last night during the first Presidential debate.  While Biden has given just as many decent speeches as he has shaky ones (his convention acceptance speech for example), nothing would have tested his metal and proved his mental fitness more than a solid debate performance. 

Over the last few decades these events have become a staple of Presidential campaigns.  It is a chance for the candidates to mentally spar, to challenge each other, to strategize and see who comes out on top.  These are about more than simply which candidate can answer the questions best.  These are about presentation.  Which candidate appears most prepared?  Which one is confident?  Which one is in command?  Which one is shaping events?  Which one is being swept away by conditions he can’t control?  All of this takes place in real time and in a less controlled environment that reading a stump speech from a teleprompter.

Indeed, this would have been a perfect opportunity for Biden to shake this question about mental health.  Several months ago, Biden was asked about the mental health question.  His answer was that we, the voters, should watch him.  We should watch him and form our own conclusions. 

Last night provided the best opportunity during the campaign to do just that.  But, alas, it was not to be.  Last night, Americans were robbed of the opportunity to watch Biden and finally put these questions to rest.  And the one who robbed them of this opportunity was the moderator: Chris Wallace.

Wallace’s performance was largely slammed by both average Joes watching from home and professional political commentators.  While I didn’t conduct my own count, many people did and one number that keeps coming up is that Wallace interrupted the President 76 times during the course of the event.  Did he interrupt Joe Biden?  Well, yes.  But these usually took the form of Wallace bailing the former VP out anytime he appeared to be in trouble.

Additionally, he used his position to block the President from correcting “errors” made by Biden about him and his record.  In other instances, he repeated these long-ago debunked errors as fact.  One example of this was a question in regard to the Charlottesville incident when the President talked about “very fine people on both sides.” 

Additionally, Wallace appeared to abandon the position of moderator several times and instead outright argued with the President.  One such instance was the issue of President Trump ending the Critical Race Theory training.

While many have asserted that Wallace had to interrupt Trump because Trump kept interrupting Biden (and I’m willing to concede that to an extent), that misses a large part of the problem.  As mentioned earlier, these debates are about more than how candidates answer questions.  They are about how candidates present themselves and how they deal with tough situations as well.  In 2012 during the Vice-Presidential debate, Biden employed an interrupting strategy against Paul Ryan similar to what Trump did last night.  The result in 2012 was that Ryan got steam rolled.  Sure, Biden came out of it looking like a world class jerk, but he was a jerk of strength and authority. Paul Ryan came out of it looking weak and timid. 

In the interest of fairness, Wallace’s interference may have actually helped the President in some way. It has been noted before that the President is his own worst enemy and he has (many, many times) shot himself in the foot because of his inability to control his own big mouth. If Wallace had given Trump the chance, there is a strong likelihood that would have happened last night.

Because of Wallace’s interference, America didn’t get a chance to see how Biden would deal with a bully.  America didn’t get a chance to see if Biden could assert himself under difficult conditions.  America didn’t get to see if Biden would stumble and lose his train of thought and his temper if the temperature got too high.  Americans didn’t get to see this because of Chris Wallace, and for that, he owes the country an apology.

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