Photo left: Vice Presidential Candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, speaks to Vice President Mike Pence during the Vice Presidential Debate on Wednesday, October 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Photo right: Vice President Mike Pence responds to a question. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Unlike the clash between Donald Trump and Joe Biden last week, Wednesday evening’s vice presidential debate was everything you could ask for on the national stage. Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris mostly refrained from the interruptions and name-calling that plagued the debate between their running mates. This is a testament to the skill of debate moderator Susan Page. While Page was not perfect, the quality of her questions was strong enough to overshadow both candidates (mainly Pence) speaking over time.
But that’s enough background. There are nine points up for grabs here. Shall I begin?
COVID-19 & The Role of a Vice PresidentJudging by these first two topics, it appeared that this debate was going to turn into a slow, painful death for Pence. Harris was a full step ahead of him here, as the vice president struggled to defend the Trump Administration’s response to the pandemic. Like Biden in last week’s debate, Harris simply needed to avoid a massive misstep here, but her suggestion of Pence’s responsibility for the crisis as the Coronavirus Task Force chair went above and beyond. Two points to the California senator. Score: 2-0 Harris
EconomyLike COVID-19, there is only so much to say on this issue. Pence is predictability touted a V-shaped recovery, while Harris played to fears of further economic decline. I give Pence a slight edge, as the Trump tax cuts have in fact boosted the middle class and small business owners. However, Harris’ “Trump only cares about how the rich are doing,” claim and subsequent remarks are enough to stop me from giving him the full point. Score: 2.25-.75 Harris
Climate ChangeYawn… Pence was reluctant to acknowledge the existence of climate change and repeatedly called out Biden’s stance on fracking, while Harris (like Biden) struggled to distance her ticket from the ambitious Green New Deal. I suppose that this category leans toward Harris, but I was not really thrilled with anything. Score: 3-1 Harris.
China, which led to Foreign PolicyThis was a unique aspect of Wednesday’s debate, as Harris and Pence focused on completely different issues. Harris won the argument on China; she (1) brushed off Pence’s suggestion that the CCP is responsible for the Trump Administration’s handling of the virus and (2) cited the shortcomings of U.S.-China trade wars to hammer this point home. However, Pence won the argument on the Middle East as he cited the Trump Administration’s accomplishments: moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and fighting terrorism by killing Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi and Qassem Soleimani. Both earned a point in this contested conversation. Score: 4-2 Harris
Judge Barrett/The Supreme CourtThe debate was Harris’ to lose by this point, but she followed Biden’s lead in making a weak claim that the American people have the right to directly control who is appointed (not elected) to the Supreme Court. On the other hand, Pence was brilliant here. Aside from a small misstep on Barrett’s Roe v. Wade stance (from which he recovered well), the vice president slammed his opponent with court-packing questions. Pence’s well-articulated attack created the appearance that Harris would favor adding Justices to the Court if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed. Score: 4-3 Harris
Racial (In)JusticeAfter unflatteringly walking around systematic racism, Pence pulled a “Tulsi Gabbard” by attacking Harris’ record of excessively incarcerating African Americans for minor drug offenses. While this attack is nothing new, Harris became visibly flustered when Pence brought it up; her arguments in favor of major police reforms (including a chokehold ban and bias training) were overshadowed almost immediately. Pence came across as the calm and capable candidate here, but this is merely an effect of Harris’ implosion. Score: 4.25-3.75 Harris
Brecklynn Brown ResponseI am going to skip over the “Election Integrity” segment, as neither Harris nor Pence said anything groundbreaking there. But then, Springville, Utah student Brecklynn Brown asked how citizens with opposing views are supposed to get along if their leaders cannot. I preferred Pence’s answer to Brown’s question, especially his example—the friendship between Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. This was a clear callback to the Supreme Court segment of the debate and a reminder to viewers that the Biden/Harris ticket wants to pack the Court. With his party’s back against the wall, Pence delivered, demonstrating that, maybe, there is some hope for sanity within the Trump Administration.
Final Score 4.75-4.25 Pence
What’s next? Another Trump-Biden debate on Thursday, Oct. 15. I’ll have my thoughts early in the following week.
Enjoy your weekend, folks.
Thumbnail image courtesy of Rick Bowmer of AP Photos.