Chris Wallace: No audience will make Biden-Trump debate ‘cleaner’ experience

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Chris Wallace: No audience will make Biden-Trump debate ‘cleaner’ experience

CNN anchor Chris Wallace said on Wednesday that not having an audience present for the CNN presidential debate between President Biden and former President Trump will make for a “cleaner” experience for the candidates and for the viewers watching at home.

Biden and Trump reached an agreement Wednesday on two presidential debates which will set the major parties’ presumptive nominees in a head-to-head battle on national television. CNN announced it will host a debate on June 27, and ABC will host a debate on Sept. 10.  

Wallace, who has moderated two presidential debates, said on CNN that he thinks the effect of an audience on the candidates is largely “overstated” but expressed support for the decision not to have one present at the debate in June.

“It’s very much contained,” Wallace said about the debate setup on stage. “Nobody is paying attention or playing to the crowd. Now, yes, sometimes the crowd intervened, and you’d have to, as the moderator, try to get them to be quiet.”

“I think it’s better without the crowd. I’ve felt that for some period of time,” he added.

Wallace noted the 1960s debates between former Presidents Kennedy and Nixon did not have crowds and were just in a television studio.

“I think it’ll make it a cleaner, purer experience,” Wallace said. “But in terms of the candidates, I don’t think it makes much difference because you are so focused on what you’re saying and what the other guy is about to say and what the moderator is going to ask, that you’re not sitting there playing to the crowd like it’s a rally.”

Wallace hosted a 2020 presidential debate between Trump and Biden, which set out to maintain an open discussion between the two candidates, but which ultimately grew very frenetic and unruly. Wallace, who was then a Fox News anchor, later described the debate as “a mess” and noted that Trump interrupted them more than 100 times that night.

Asked on Wednesday what would be the best approach for whoever ends up moderating the debate, Wallace raised the prospect of “when it’s not your time, when you’re not talking, that your mic will be cut off.”

“The problem is that when you have, as you saw in that debate, a free-flowing conversation, it isn’t like, ‘I’m getting two minutes to talk and then you get two minutes,’” Wallace said. “It’s pretty hard to turn the mic on and off because you’re hoping to engage them.”

Ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Trump frequently lashed out at Wallace, and their feud came to a head once Wallace condemned Trump’s premature and incorrect claim to have won the election in 2020, when he pledged to take the matter to the Supreme Court to stop votes from being counted.

On the Wednesday after the election, before the results were tabulated, the then-Fox News anchor called the race an “extremely flammable situation,” adding that “the president just threw a match on it.”

“He hasn’t won these states, nobody is saying he won these states. The states hasn’t said he’s won,” he said.