To Chris Wallace:
You’re to be forgiven if you’re having bad dreams about what could occur in the first Trump-Biden debate you’re about to moderate.
I’ve refereed several broadcast debates over the years—but none so laden with so many perilous potentials. But I do want to help. Just for practice, let’s address some nightmarish scenarios and how you might deal with them.
Nightmare #1—To change the subject or distract attention from whatever points his debate opponent may be scoring, President Trump tweets the nuclear codes for all to see and/or employ.
You can rest easy on this one. I happen to know the generals long ago replaced the codes the president has at his fingertips with the unlisted phone number for the Pennsylvania Avenue McDonald’s. Yes, the 160 milligrams of cholesterol in a pair of double cheeseburgers isn’t particularly healthy, but neither is the equivalent of 1.2 million tons of TNT sandwiched into a single hydrogen bomb.
If Mr. Biden complains about Mr. Trump’s diversion, I suggest you lightly hum the “you deserve a break today” theme and move on.
Nightmare #2–Mr. Biden falls asleep while you’re asking him a second follow-up question about sequestration. You ask Mr. Trump to nudge him. The president does so, perhaps a bit too vigorously, but not before mouthing the words “Sleepy Joe” into the TV camera. When the startled Mr. Biden awakens, he shouts, “This is a big f—ing deal!”
At this point you should remind the former vice president that the subject at-hand is sequestration, not Obamacare, and the former president’s ear is nowhere near.
Nightmare #3—After calling Mr. Biden “weak” and “pathetic”, the president challenges him to an arm-wrestling match, right there and right now. Mr. Biden demurs, instead offering a best-of-three tic-tac-doe contest. Mr. Trump counters with a cognition challenge, instantly barking, “Person, man, woman, camera, TV!”
I suggest you end this contest segment by proposing a post-debate game of rock-paper-scissors, but be prepared to umpire a game of rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock.
Nightmare #4—Near the end of the commercial-free 90-minute debate, a small pool of liquid appears on the stage floor, between the two candidates’ podiums. Neither candidate admits he is long past a needed bathroom break.
This may be the most extant of your nightmares. I can only advise that you look to the NBA for guidance on whether you should have more than one mop-equipped stagehand close by. If this actually occurs, you may want to advise the Fox News sales department that one of its regular clients, a catheter supply company, will surely be interested in booking a commercial just before the next debate, just behind the My Pillow spot.
Nightmare #5—Both candidates begin their response to a “yes or no” question with a “yes” or “no”.
This, of course, is unheard of in any political debate, but should it occur, you must not let it throw you off-course. Avoid asking a follow-up question like “What do you mean by that?”
Nightmare #6—Mr. Biden produces a bottle of Clorox and invites the president to take a swig. A Secret Service agent rushes onto the stage, knocks the bottle from Mr. Biden’s hands, denying the president an opportunity to showcase his scientific mettle. Mr. Trump seems disappointed.
I suggest you graciously try to ignore the situation, attempting to appear not too grateful some of the bleach spilled onto the stage floor.
And Nightmare #7—President Trump dislikes the question you just asked him concerning Vladimir Putin, Jeffrey Epstein and Jamal Khashoggi. “That’s enough!” he roars. “You’re an enemy of the people, Chris, and your father would be ashamed of you. Did Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity approve this question? Unbelievable!”
It seems certain some inquiry you make of Mr. Trump Tuesday night will result in expectoration from him. I urgently recommend you mask-up as soon as you pose the question.
Good luck, Chris. May all your tests be negative.
To Chris Wallace: