Chris Wallace of Fox News has a right to be angry.
As the host of last Tuesday’s presidential debate, he was among those exposed to Donald Trump’s shedding viral load as the maskless president spewed his infectious aerosol droplets while reading his lies and misinformation on stage in Cleveland.
What’s even worse was the fact that everyone in the limited audience at the hall at Case Western Reserve University where the debate was held was also exposed — including his Democratic challenger Joe Biden and his wife and staff — despite the coronavirus protocols that both the Trump and Biden campaigns had agreed to in advance.
The impunity with which the Trump family violated those protocols by removing their required masks upon taking their seats for the debate has led to much finger-pointing as well as accusations that the president’s positive diagnosis was a result of the general contempt for any CDC-recommended guidelines for face coverings among Republicans and those right-wing science deniers who affiliate themselves with the party of death and extreme selfishness.
Wallace rightfully held the Trump campaign’s feet to the fire this morning when Trump campaign advisor Steve Cortes appeared on his Fox News Sunday program today.
The Fox News host referred back to the White House event honoring Trump’s latest controversial Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, last weekend — a crowded affair filled with GOP luminaries all glad-handing with each other and almost all without a single face mask in sight — when he asked Cortes about the wisdom of holding such a risky event in the middle of a pandemic against all medical recommendations from their own health agencies.
“People packed together, the vast majority not wearing masks,” Wallace said. “How does that make sense?”
Cortes replied with the usual claptrap about the “tremendous precautions” in place to protect the president, including testing people in close contact with him, failing to address the issue of everyone else who was exposed to — and some cases infected by — COVID-19 due to the foolish and risky event.
“The fact that he still got infected shows us that unfortunately this virus has that kind of power,” Cortes claimed “The president, though, and he’s made this clear, he was unwilling to completely sequester himself, to take no risk, because leaders take risks. And he is the servant of the people as well as the commander-in-chief and so he said he must be around the people he serves. He took reasonable risks.”
The “servant of the people” apparently has no regard whatsoever to those around him, even when they are members of his own administration and party, which should tell you nothing about the president’s character that you didn’t already know.
“Let’s talk about reasonable risks,” Wallace countered. “Because there was the debate on Tuesday night that I moderated. The rules from the Cleveland Clinic could not have been more clear. Everyone in the audience was to wear a mask.”
“After the first family came in, they all took off their masks,” the Fox News host reminded Cortes. “So did the White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Do they think that the health and safety rules for everybody else do no apply to them?”
Wallace got to the heart of the obvious contradiction between a president whose campaign is based on a message of “LAW & ORDER” and the simple fact that he and his family have acted as if the rules, including the rule of law, do not apply to them, a frequent malady among the ultra-wealthy.
“No, that’s not the reality,” Cortes tried to reply. “Everybody was tested before that event as you well know. Those of us who went first were tested by Cleveland Clinic directly.”
Wallace wasn’t taking Cortes’ excuses at face value.
“Steve, it doesn’t matter,” Wallace interrupted his guest. “Everybody in that room was tested and the Cleveland Clinic’s regulation was, it didn’t matter, everybody except for the three of us on the stage was to wear a mask and people from the Cleveland Clinic came over and offered the first family masks, thinking maybe they didn’t have them. They were waved away and the Commission on Presidential Debates has issued a statement saying, from now on if you don’t wear a mask, you’re going to be escorted from the hall.”
“So forget this question of being tested beforehand,” Wallace continued. “Everybody was tested beforehand. No! I’m going to finish my question. Everybody was told to wear a mask. Why did the first family and the chief of staff feel that the rules for everybody else didn’t apply to them?”
Calling masks “very useful,” in a reversal of the usual right-wing attitude towards facial coverings during the pandemic, the Trump campaign surrogate pivoted to the typical GOP response about mask-wearing.
“We also believe in some element of individual choice,” Cortes continued. “People were distanced and they had been tested.”
A determined Wallace refused to back down.
“No!” he interjected. “Steve, they weren’t distanced and there were rules and there was no freedom of choice. They broke the rules!”
“I was there like you were and they were distanced!” Cortes tried to peddle his fictional account of what actually happened.
“No, they broke the rules!” Wallace continued to insist. “Why did they break the rules?”
At this point, the cornered Cortes took a page from Trump’s own handbook. When cornered by a question, simply ignore it and start attacking the interlocutor.
“Chris, the way you’re starting to harangue me now actually reminds me of what you did to the president during that debate on Tuesday night,” Cortes responded. “You were not a neutral moderator then. I don’t mind tough questions. I welcome reasonably tough questions. What I don’t think is OK is for you to become the effective opposition to the president.”
Wallace had a quick retort to the accusations of political bias being aimed his way.
“The president interrupted me and the vice president 145 times,” Wallace observed. “So I object to you saying I harangued the president. I know it’s the talking point.”
Perhaps avoiding the question of why the Trump family was so audacious in the breaking of the ground rules for attending the debate is not best accomplished by directing attention to another instance of a Trump acting like the rules don’t ever apply to himself.
It’s also why the Trump campaign is likely to face an ignominious defeat at the ballot boxes in exactly a month from today.
You can watch a video of Chris Wallace’s interview with Trump campaign advisor Steve Cortes in the clip below.
Original reporting by David Edwards at Alternet.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.