What a difference four years make. In 2016, Mike Pence won the Vice Presidential debate with almost every measure as conclusively as such victories can ever be determined. Now, in the battle for 2020 runners-up, the U.S. Vice President is just as conclusively on the losing side of the equation.
The Democratic challenger Kamala Harris was not only ready to meet her opponent in her biggest ever appearance on the national stage, but also to use the platform to get in touch with the voters on a personal level. In contrast, Pence seemed disconnected and discouraged, like he was in the dentist’s office because of a root canal.
US Vice President Mike Pence kept going back to sue the previous discussion, upset the rhythm of the debate, and circumvent the matter [Justin Sullivan/Pool via Reuters]In a civilized debate that reflected the gravity of the moment, voters had the opportunity to compare the two candidates and their visions for the country. Political differences aside, viewers also saw two very different people: one who was smiling and one who was not. One who dealt with the moderator’s questions and one who hardly pretended. One who radiated passion, one who just wanted to get everything behind him.
Aside from Harris’ dominance, the other headline emerging from this debate is now twice in a row: President Trump and Vice President Pence refused to confirm during the debate stage that they would accept the will of the people on election day. If the last two presidential debates actually take place, we hope that this will become a central topic for discussion.
In the meantime, the Vice President Debaters have:
In her very first response to the debate, Harris described the Trump White House pandemic response as the “greatest failure of a presidential administration in our country’s history” and immediately put Pence on the defensive. With the skills honed in the courtroom, Harris brought up a damn case based largely on Trump’s own words.
For the remainder of the evening, Harris pressed the criticism, and in doing so, it seemed to catch Pence off guard than one might have expected. Harris often looked directly at her opponent when she directed her most damning criticisms, such as Pence saying, “There was a time when our country believed in science.”
Democratic Vice-Presidential Candidate Senator Kamala Harris stayed on top of the news, referring frequently to the policies of U.S. Presidential candidate Joe Biden [Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]Harris demonstrated the ability to connect directly with viewers and relate abstract subjects to everyday life. “If you have a pre-existing illness, they come for you,” she said in one of her most effective lines. Far more than her opponent, Harris recognized that the point of a debate was also to serve as a nationally televised interview. So it doesn’t hurt to assert yourself against the boss.
Harris stayed in the loop, often putting US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at the center of their responses, almost due to a mistake. Neither Harris nor Pence have ever addressed moderator Susan Page’s question of the advanced age of the presidential nominee, but Harris should – something voters are right to be concerned about, especially given the successor to the President plays a huge role in Trump’s fight against COVID-19.
Similarly, Harris responded to the question of expanding the Supreme Court, an issue for which she should have been ready. This discussion was one of the few in which Pence came across as livelier and more matter-of-fact than his rival.
Harris also failed to take advantage of some obvious openings, such as Pence’s total circumvention of how he would govern abortion law if the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision protecting reproductive rights – Roe vs Wade – were overturned. The Harris Supreme Court responses lacked the acuteness and urgency the subject deserves.
But at best – that was most of the debate – Kamala Harris showed that Biden had chosen his political partner well. It’s not easy, especially for a newbie, to follow through with what Harris did.
In that debate, Pence had a reputation for being a good-natured, easy-going communicator with an “aw-shucks” style that disarmed his opponents. This certainly happened in 2016 with Tim Kaine, then a colleague of the then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The 2020 pence was a much darker presence, with the nothing of the lucky warrior about it. Granted, defending yourself against the deaths of 210,000 Americans during the pandemic may not be easy, but Pence barely tried.
His typical platitudes were there when he said of the victims: “You will always be in our hearts and in our prayers.” And Pence still used his experience as a presenter on a radio talk show for the art of running out of time.
Most annoying for the audience, Pence almost never answered the question on the table. Instead, he kept going back to complain about the previous discussion, disrupt the rhythm of the debate, and bypass the matter.
Pence defended Trump, who was lukewarm at best. We only glimpsed the trademark pence, which could spin everything that Trump said or did.
For example, on climate change, when Pence said, “President Trump has made it clear that we will listen to science,” it was old Pence who was ready to make an outrageous claim with a straight face.
Pence fared better off congratulating Harris on the “historic nature” of her candidacy. In some ways, such a remark could be dismissed as just another means of cutting time and avoiding more serious matters, but hearing something positive from side to side is rare, and for Pence it was a good move.
On the other hand, it was unsettling to see Pence fix his gaze specifically on Harris as he uttered the words “lootings and riots” or “rioters and looters” as if they could be personally equated with such acts. That this happened during a discussion on systemic racism spoke volumes to anyone willing to read between the lines.
If this is the last debate on the 2020 general election, we will remember the 90 minutes that put Kamala Harris on the national political map and the 90 minutes that drained at least some of Pence’s plans for the future.