This was a real debate, a good debate. It was one of the best debates associated with a presidential election that I can recall.
Both participants were sharp and both landed plenty of blows. Both talked over the moderator, but not over each other. Neither was very obnoxious. Only one was relatively honest. I’ll get to that later.
There was a clear winner, I think. It was Mike Pence. He won on points on nearly all of the nine topics in the debate. Some he won narrowly; others decisively.
Unfortunately, Pence didn’t win the first round — the one about the Wuhan coronavirus. Harris won that very important round.
Pence did a better job than Trump talking about the measures the administration took to deal with the pandemic. However, I don’t think he did as much as he could have, choosing instead to talk about how proud he is of the American people for enduring so much suffering.
Not a great pitch in my opinion, but maybe it tested well with a focus group.
Pence’s biggest failure in this part of the debate was to leave unanswered Harris’ charge that the administration covered up the threat of the virus for a month and a half. That one needed a response.
Pence did score an important point when he returned to the topic of the coronavirus after the debate was supposed to have moved on. He hammered the Obama-Biden response to SARS, citing the statement of the then-vice president’s own chief of staff to the effect that the administration did everything wrong and that America was spared only because the virus turned out to be far less deadly than expected.
Trump tried to make this point last week, but it got lost in the back-and-forth.
Still, I think Trump-Pence needed a better defense of its handling of the pandemic than the ticket got tonight.
After that, Pence was the consistent winner, as I said. Harris hung in there gamely for the most part, but looked really bad when she continued to dodge the question of whether Biden will try to pack the Supreme Court if he wins. Any trial lawyer would admire Pence’s handling of her on that matter, I think.
Pence was also the clear winner on the economy. Pence effectively lambasted Biden-Harris on the Green New Deal, cleverly citing USA Today, the moderator’s newspaper, for the proposition that the Biden-Harris plan is, essentially, that Deal. Harris’ denials were so unconvincing that even the moderator displayed skepticism.
On the personal side, I don’t think there was anything for a half way objective observer to dislike about Pence. He’s an unflappable, likeable guy, and he behaved himself. Twice, he managed to praise Harris.
I didn’t find Harris’ behavior or demeanor objectionable. I imagine that some folks might be put off by her constant broad smiling, which could be viewed as smirking. I didn’t view it that way and was not put off.
I was a bit put off on the two occasions when Harris tried to avoid defending her record by declaring, “I will not be lectured to.” Harris is something of a “lecturer” herself.
I was very much put off by Harris’ dishonesty. She kept spouting uncorroborated, and in some cases largely debunked, slanders about President Trump — e.g., that he bad mouthed American service members.
Harris even lied about Honest Abe Lincoln. She claimed that Lincoln refused to nominate a candidate for the Supreme Court in October 1864, saying “it’s not the right thing to do” and that he wanted the people to vote first. Dan McLaughlin shows that Lincoln did no such thing.
I believe the record will reveal a host of lies by Harris. I’ll try to catalogue them when the dust settles.
I’m pretty sure I’m right that Pence won the debate. The question is what the effect of his win will be.
Past vice presidential debates have helped presidential candidates who were in some trouble after the first debate. George H.W. Bush gave Ronald Reagan a mild boost in 1984, I believe, or at least helped stop the bleeding. Dick Cheney helped George W. Bush get back on track in 2004. Biden probably did the same for Obama with his obnoxious but seemingly effective assault on Paul Ryan in 2012. And I think Pence helped Trump in 2016 by outperforming Tim Kaine.
In all of these cases, though, the key was that the man at the top of the ticket did well in the debates that followed. A strong performance in the VP debate can, perhaps, set the table. However, the presidential candidate must then eat.
My hope is that (1) this race is close enough for debates still to make a difference and (2) a revived President Trump can back Mike Pence’s performance with a strong and relatively appealing showing in the second and third debates.