How Chris Wallace Won the Final Presidential Debate

Feature: What I saw at the Las Vegas debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Chris Wallace
Moderator Chris Wallace / AP
October 19, 2016

LAS VEGAS—The best thing about the third and final—that has a nice ring to it, right?—presidential debate was the free beer garden sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, which, as far as I am aware, remains open even as I write this. My flight was late and I didn’t have time to check in at my hotel and get something to eat before I picked up my media credential. All I expected was an overpriced hamburger stand. Instead I got beef brisket, some chicken, potatoes, green beans, cornbread, coffee, and five Budweisers. When I walked over to the bar I couldn’t believe my luck.

"Can you take a card?" I asked the woman standing by the tap.

"It’s free, sir," she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

For three or so hours before the debate I was allowed to bring my drinks outside and smoke while watching Matt Boyle play cornhole. I was too far away to see whether he sunk any of his beanbags, but even from my vantage point it was impossible to ignore the ungodly amount of hair on the back of his neck. I came very close to offering him my electric razor—but he seemed busy. The offer stands, at least through tomorrow.

Otherwise, it was the usual shit show. Once again, I walked into the media filing center only to learn that it was not taken for granted that everyone with a valid credential would want to sit down at some point during the 90-minute debate. This time, though, I was forced by the rate desk to pay $95 for the pleasure of being able to plant myself in the middle of an empty row in the basement of a building named after a cable company somewhere on the campus of the University of Nevada Las Vegas. It took about 15 minutes to fill out the form with my name, address, phone number, and debit card number and sign various forms to secure this seat in the overflow filing center.

"Before we finalize this deed of sale, I’d like to make sure I don’t need to give you another hundred bucks or whatever for Wi-Fi," I said.

"No, Wi-Fi access is free," the woman behind the counter said.

"So I’m all set then and it’s definitely free?"


In practice, "free" meant walking all the way down to the basement overflow center, finding myself unable to log in, going back to the rate desk, being told—contra the media information page on the debate website—that I had to go somewhere else to get my little card. I sometimes think I would do almost anything to have a colleague or assistant who knew what he was doing at these things. If anyone, even an intern, from the Commission on Presidential Debates is reading this, take note: We all want places to sit, we all want to file, and we all have email addresses where we can be reached with our seat assignments and passwords well in advance of debate night.

Is it everyone else’s impression that the third debate was the most boring one yet? Trump, in America’s most pornographic city, reminded us tonight that he is a fundamentally pornographic candidate. How difficult is it to say that you want Roe v. Wade overturned? He has put millions of earnest and decent people in the position of having to hold their noses and vote for him because on the only issue that matters he has at least intermittently pretended to be on the right side.

To his credit, Chris Wallace did far and away the best job of any of the moderators so far. There were eight TVs in the overflow center, none of which I could see very well, but Wallace seemed calm, disciplined, and, most important, keen on getting the thing over with. I was only confused once when he announced, for the second time in 20 minutes, that he wanted to move to the subject of "foreign hot spots." I’m not sure where those are. Ibiza?

When Trump referred to the Syrian refugee crisis as "the Great Migration," was he remembering something from his American history class in high school or recalling one of the Land Before Time sequels that he watched with Baron? When he said "vast swatches," did anyone watching at home laugh? I found it hard to pay attention to the last four or so minutes. Instead I sat at my desk trying to think of a good joke about gigantic anthropomorphic Swiss timepieces. It really was more interesting than listening to Trump talk nonsense about how he can save Medicare by repealing Obamacare and cutting taxes. Let’s face it: Hillary’s answer to Wallace’s question about entitlement reform was better.