Analysis: Pence Wins Debate, But Mission Accomplished for Harris

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Posted: Oct 08, 2020 10:05 AM
Analysis: Pence Wins Debate, But Mission Accomplished for Harris

What a marked and refreshing departure from the chaos of last week.  Last night's Vice Presidential debate was civil, fairly substantive, and perhaps even slightly boring at times.  In other words, it felt normal, in spite of the abnormal circumstances under which it was held.  My overall takeaway is something of a mixed verdict, bearing in mind that the event seems highly unlikely to disrupt the underlying fundamentals of the race, which pretty clearly favor the challenger at this stage:


One of my political pet peeves is watching candidates entirely ignore direct questions asked of them, in favor of pivoting to preferred topics and canned answers.  We were treated to a fair amount of that over 90 minutes, from both sides of the stage.  USA Today's Susan Page mostly asked good, fair questions, and managed to direct the traffic rather well -- a far easier task than Chris Wallace faced, given the respective characters involved.  Vice President Pence was on defense throughout the opening stanza, doing his best to evade pointed critiques on COVID as best he could.  He made some solid points, but it was a tall order, and it showed.  After the subject shifted to the economy and other major issues, he ably and doggedly dismantled the opposing ticket's record and agenda, in my view.  Sen. Kamala Harris had her moments, stayed disciplined, and passed the general eye test, all without making any major or controversial news.  In other words, mission accomplished.

One area that the Republicans have needed to exploit more is the Biden campaign's promise to raise taxes on the overwhelming majority of Americans, while pretending that they won't.  Pence hammered on it.  Multiple independent, nonpartisan experts have reviewed Biden's proposal and concluded that it would "increase taxes on average for all income groups."  She didn't seem to understand that she'd done so, and denied it several times, but this is accurate:


Pence dominated on the economic questions.  As for the back-and-forth bickering over fracking, watch this video, which Pence referenced, as well as this.  They're trying to have it both ways.  It's a similar story on the 'Green New Deal.'  Later, Harris revealed herself to be an inch deep on a number of issues, especially on foreign policy, offering a parade of platitudes and shallow answers.  On the Supreme Court and radical court-packing schemes, the Vice President pressed a member of the Biden ticket harder and more clearly than any journalist has to date.  Harris' reply was incredibly weak, conflating filling existing vacancies (using Democrat-established rules) with adding seats to the Supreme Court.  She also injected a racial red herring into her reply, which was a completely unresponsive pander.  She ultimately never answered the question, and Pence made sure people noticed (update: her Lincoln anecdote was historically inaccurate).  

After parrying back and forth on other issues like climate policy, race relations and accepting the election results -- each getting in some shots and delivering talking points -- the final question was relayed from an eighth grader, who asked about the acrimony and ugliness of politics.  Pence smartly parlayed this challenge into a tribute to the special friendship between the late Justices Ginsburg and Scalia, which he said exemplifies American unity in the face of deep disagreements.  A strong finish to a good night for him.  He's much steadier and more informed than his running mate.

Lastly, I noticed quite a few online liberals attacking Pence for 'talking over' women (both other people onstage were women, and crosstalk is inevitable at these things), while conservatives hit Harris for her body language.  I don't really buy into either critique.  Pence talked over his allotted time on several occasions, but did so calmly.  He did not come across as disrespectful.  And the idea that Harris shaking her head or smirking will do anything to move any votes is similarly silly.  Remarkably, each candidates spoke for nearly precisely the same amount of time, according to one count, and Harris spoke for several more minutes than Pence based on another:


The "mansplaining" narrative, cultivated on lefty twitter and picked up by sympathetic journalists, is stupid and lazy.  And yes, 'the fly' gave us all something stupid to chuckle and create memes about for a news cycle that will have a shorter half life than said fly.  A throwback to simpler times, perhaps.  In short, the Vice President offered a detailed and compelling critique of the challengers' records, the likes of which Americans have not yet witnessed this cycle.  His counterpart's goals were to attack the incumbent president, convey overall plausibility for the job she seeks, and to do nothing that would risk altering the existing trajectory of the race.  My guess, therefore, is that both campaigns are pleased with how last night went -- and that viewers won't deliver a terribly lopsided verdict on the winner.  Although I'll leave you with an online media poll that didn't give the GOP participant much of a chance:


Also, for what it's worth: