Inside a Cleveland auditorium on Tuesday, everyone watching President Trump debate former vice president Joe Biden wore a mask, with a notable exception: Trump’s guests, including the first family.
On Sunday, the debate’s moderator, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, demanded answers from the Trump campaign for flouting the debate host’s rules — especially in light of Friday’s news that both the president and first lady Melania Trump later tested positive for the coronavirus.
“The rules from the Cleveland Clinic could not have been more clear. Everyone, everyone in the audience was to wear a mask,” Wallace said on “Fox News Sunday.” “After the first family came in, they all took off their masks. So did the White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Do they think that the health and safety rules for everybody else do not apply to them?”
When Steve Cortes, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, started arguing that the masks weren’t necessary because attendees had been tested for the virus, Wallace cut him off.
“Steve, it doesn’t matter. Everyone in that room was tested. The Cleveland Clinic regulation was, it didn’t matter. Everyone except for the three of us onstage was to wear a mask,” Wallace said.
The interview tied off a weekend where Wallace was a central, often critical, voice in Fox News’s coverage of Trump’s positive diagnosis — a story that could personally affect him after he shared a stage with the president. Wallace has said he won’t be tested until Monday.
On Friday, Wallace broke news that illustrated Trump’s lax approach to safety guidelines, revealing to viewers that the president violated an “honor system” by showing up to the debate without already having tested negative. Wallace also said Trump and his staff didn’t wear masks on a walk-through before the debate.
On Sunday, Wallace repeatedly grilled Cortes on why Trump’s guests had disregarded mask rules, which both campaigns had agreed to ahead of time. In the audience, the first lady and the president’s children, Ivanka, Don Jr., Eric, and Tiffany, all shunned masks, as did Trump’s other guests, including Meadows, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
When Cleveland Clinic staffers offered the group face coverings, they were rebuffed.
“Everybody was told to wear a mask. Why did the first family and the chief of staff believe that the rules for everybody else didn’t apply to them?” Wallace asked.
Cortes argued that while Trump believes masks are “useful,” “we also believe in some element of individual choice. People were distanced, and they had been tested.”
Indeed, the Cleveland Clinic did test all attendees with PCR, the nasal swab considered the best standard, The Washington Post’s Aaron C. Davis, Shawn Boburg and Josh Dawsey reported. But the Trump campaign was allowed to do its own testing, and used instead a rapid test that studies have found can miss infections up to 30 percent of the time.
Wallace pressed Cortes again. “No,” he said, “those were the rules, and there was no freedom of choice. They broke the rules. Why did they break the rules?”
Instead of answering, Cortes accused Wallace of “haranguing” the president during the debate, repeating Trump campaign claims that Wallace had sided too often with Biden. Then Cortes added again, “Everyone there was tested in the crowd, they were distanced from each other, people can make reasonable decisions for themselves.”
Wallace scoffed at that — and said the Commission on Presidential Debates had made it clear that not wearing a mask at future debates would lead to an ejection from the venue.
“No, actually they can’t,” Wallace responded. “There are the rules, and they’ll be kicked out next time.”