VP Debate 2020
Kamala Harris wins by not losing.
While I didn’t watch last night’s debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris, Ryan Lizza‘s summation succinctly captures the consensus:
At one point during Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate, Mike Pence answered a question about abortion laws in Indiana by discussing Qasem Soleimani. Kamala Harris responded to a question about whether she and Joe Biden would expand the Supreme Court by invoking Abe Lincoln.
Let’s say this at the outset: This was a boring, unfocused debate between two well-prepared and polished candidates who had little interest in answering the questions posed to them — and were under virtually no pressure from the moderator to do so.
While many observers were frustrated by the candidates’—and especially Pence’s—refusal to directly answer questions, Lizza found it a refreshing return to normalcy in contrast with the debacle that was the first (and perhaps last) Trump-Biden debate.
[I]t was sort of how debates used to be: professional politicians who are mostly civil to each other making their points, occasionally skirting the rules, and frequently spinning the facts. There was a lot to critique, but the participants were bound by some shared sense of propriety.
That was before Trump came along and turned the first debate into a spectacle, as he did on Sept. 29 by interrupting Joe Biden for 90 minutes. So maybe the way to see the Harris-Pence snooze-fest is as a peek into the future of American politics once this Trump-dominated era is over.
Harris and Pence are both younger, more well-spoken, and closer to the beating hearts of their respective parties.
Neither candidate embarrassed themself or clearly out-pointed the other.
Considering the challenges anyone would have defending the Trump record on the pandemic, Pence’s ability to leave the stage after 90 minutes without being gutted by Harris was a bar cleared.
The fly that nested in Pence’s hair for more than two minutes was more embarrassing to him — and memorable to viewers — than any of Harris’s jabs. That also has to be seen as a kind of accomplishment.
The two plexiglass screens that separated the candidates were visual reminders of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus. There has never been a debate where one candidate requested that special safety equipment be installed because there was a not-unreasonable concern that their opponent might infect them with the deadly disease they were charged with getting under control. Like the fly, the physical barriers were more memorable and more embarrassing to Pence than anything Harris said.
Of course, a visible reminder of the Trump administration’s most colossal failure throughout the debate is something of a win for the opposition on its own. Further, given that Biden-Harris currently have a rather sizable lead over Trump-Pence in all the polls—and have throughout the race—not losing is as good as winning.
Indeed, Harris may well have been looking ahead to 2024, positioning herself as the clear favorite to replace Biden after a single term, than to next month’s election.
Harris was well-prepared but restrained. She did not, as previous vice-presidential candidates have — including Joe Biden in 2008 and 2012 — play the role of vicious aggressor. In previous presidential campaigns that role has sometimes diminished the running mate.
Whether by design or happenstance, Harris seemed more interested in coming across as civil and presidential rather than as an attack dog. Considering the dynamics of the campaign that may have been a politically astute decision. She and Biden are well ahead in the polls and defining Harris as someone ready to be president, rather than as a political assassin, may be a more important use of her limited time in the spotlight.
According to CNN’s instant polling, both candidates more-or-less met expectations going in.
More Americans said Sen. Kamala Harris did the best job in the vice presidential debate Wednesday night, according to a CNN Instant Poll of registered voters who watched. About 6 in 10 (59%) said Harris won, while 38% said Vice President Mike Pence had the better night.
Those results roughly matched voters’ expectations heading into the debate. In interviews conducted before the debate, 61% of those same voters said they expected Harris to win, 36% thought Pence would.
My first thought was that this was simply a reflection of national poll numbers. But Harris’ expectations and “win” numbers are somewhat higher than Biden’s margins over Trump’s in the most recent CNN poll (which is itself higher than the RealClearPolitics polling average.)
And given that this was in some ways Harris’ introduction to the nation writ large, it went well for her:
Harris did improve her favorability rating among those who watched, according to the poll, while for Pence, the debate was a wash. In pre-debate interviews, 56% said they had a positive view of Harris — that rose to 63% after the debate. For Pence, his favorability stood at 41% in both pre- and post-debate interviews.
Harris’ numbers went up among men (from 49% favorable before to 56% afterward) and women (from 63% favorable before to 70% post-debate), and she even boosted her favorability rating among Trump supporters (from 4% favorable pre-debate to 12% after). Pence’s numbers held steady among men and women (50% of men had a favorable view in both pre- and post-debate interviews, among women it was 33% pre-debate and 32% after).
But, as is almost always the case, the VP debate did little to alter the race itself:
As after the first presidential debate, though, most voters who watched said Wednesday’s event hasn’t changed their minds about whom to support. Overall, 55% say it had no effect on how they are likely to vote, while those who did choose a side tilted narrowly toward Joe Biden.
Which isn’t surprising. Again, almost nobody votes on the basis of the vice president. Still, given Biden’s advanced age and concerns about his mental health and longevity, that Harris demonstrated herself to be competent was presumably a relief to those voters who definitely don’t want to vote for Trump but were reluctant to vote for Biden.
Both vice presidential candidates are broadly seen as qualified to be president: 65% said Pence is qualified to serve as commander in chief should that become necessary, 63% said the same of Harris.
Those are strong numbers, indeed.
Most debate watchers said Harris did the better job defending her running mate (64% Harris to 34% Pence), that she seemed more focused on uniting the country (62% to 34%), was more in touch with the needs and problems of people like you (61% to 38%) and that she expressed her views more clearly (57% to 39%). Most said Pence spent more time attacking his opponent (56%) than thought the same of Harris (36%).
Those numbers essentially mirror the overall support ratings. Still, Pence was in a very different position—having to defend the record of an unpopular sitting President while casting doubt on what a Biden presidency would look like.
The bottom line is that we’re inching closer to Election Day—indeed, more than a million Americans have already voted—and Pence did nothing to change the momentum of the race. That, of course, was a tall order.
Pence did the better job. Of course it’s easier when you can just lie. But Harris was not good. I’m glad the polls went our way, but her performance was a C- at best.
I had it on for roughly the first hour. The description above strikes me as accurate.
It was far more normal than any debate Trump has participated in, to be sure.
And, as usual, one learns very little if one was already paying attention (and yes, direct answers, as is usual, were not forthcoming).
I was more curious about Harris’ demeanor than anything else and the insta-polls you cite strike me as matching what I saw.
I tuned out right before the fly, which does appear to have been the real highlight of the night.
Back when the GOP still had a heart that may have been true for Pence, but that was a long time ago.
I’m still in favor of the moderator shutting off the mic when the candidate’s time is up. It’s so annoying when they continue talking.
@OzarkHillbilly: Pence is owned lock, stock, and barrel by Chuckles Koch. That puts him exactly at the heart of the Republican Party.
Paint gun, and for every three paint splotches that person their mic turned off for 10 minutes.
Anything that shuts Trump up is a good thing. But for Harris-Biden, no, it’s good that Pence was able to talk over Harris, and the female moderator. It looks like women were hugely turned off by Pence’s behavior. Never interfere with your enemy when he’s making a mistake.
@Michael Reynolds: The polling suggests otherwise: https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/07/politics/mike-pence-kamala-harris-vice-presidential-debate-poll/index.html
On the other hand, I don’t believe the VP debate will have moved many voters although I did enjoy seeing the fly looking for poop on Pence’s head.
In three days, most people will be able to recall the following:
1) The fly.
2) Susan Page repeatedly saying “thank you” while Pence drones on and on past his time limit.
Neither will be a win for Trump-Pence, especially as the latter is rudeness over a female moderator.
Pence patriarchal mindset playing to the “gender gap.”
@dmichael: I thought this was a very illuminating statistic
When Pence went way over his allotted time in 40+ instances and talked over Harris constantly, men hardly noticed, but women were keenly aware.
@Jon: Electrical shocks from the mic might also be pretty entertaining. “It shuts up or it gets the shock!” 🙂
I’ll have to admit that the hometown 9 playing the hated NYYankees took priority at my house. And they won handily, thank you for inquiring. But I did surf back and forth between innings and at pitching changes and agree with Rachel Maddow’s interpretation that Ms Harris had a good debate but not a knock-out. And that Mr Pence ably defended a Presidential Administration that does not exist in the real world.
I just noticed:
69 + 30 = 99
48 + 46 = 94
Curious how the percentages add up.
Hey, no flies on Kamala Harris! For Mike “Dead Man Walking” Pence on the other hand…
For my wife, there was no question. “Who does that *bleeping bleep* think he is? He’s nothing but Trump’s rhymes-with-stitch and he’s talking over the uppity women like he’s their boss or something.”
And at the end: “Flies look for rotting meat to lay eggs so Pence should be shedding maggots by Friday.”
My friend Suzanne this morning:
I also did not watch, but read several post debate breakdowns and both Harris and Pence were dinged pretty evenly for not answering questions, etc., so I would indeed call it a push which is all the Democratic party needs at this point in the game.
Anyway, I bet I am far from alone in that I was glad we did not get to see an old Southern white male rip into a black woman, and I am also relieved that Harris did not feed the appetite of those who wanted to see an angry black woman on the stage. That would have made for some nasty post-debate breakdowns, thank goodness that did not happen.
Seeing the way gender dynamics are still playing out in 2020, it looks pretty obvious that the biggie that killed the HRC run in 2016 was penis insufficiancy.
@Teve: God, yes. 1000 times, this.
Unenlightened men hardly noticed. My husband (I married a good one) found it incredibly off-putting how frequently Pence interrupted her.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Same here, then we got bored and put on Schitt’s Creek.
This. She had to repeatedly remind him that it was her turn and that talking over her was rude. That hits with home since that happens. Every. Damn. Day. Men seem to be glossing over how utterly disrespectful he was to both women but trust me, we noticed. Trump can’t afford to lose any women willing to vote for him, especially white suburban women.
It would only be a push if substance and policy mattered much in these things. They do not, it’s the other stuff, the stuff I mentioned above, or Steven Taylor’s observation here:
@Jax: Heh, even better. I like it.
@Not the IT Dept. :
One of my uber-religious acquaintances was really disturbed by the fly thing on FB this morning. Flies, especially those that linger for no discernable reason or source, are usually associated with devilry, possession and the supernatural. It’s a sign of Satan and freaked him out. “Why didn’t he swat it away? Why was it just *sitting* there for so long”? Pence is supposed to the Good Christian while Trump’s just the “baby” Christian sent by God that can make earthly mistakes so long as he gets them the goods; for it to be Pence that got the ill omen rattled him good.
I may have casually tossed in there MAGA = Mark of the Beast just to add to the freak out. Yeah buddy, you definitely sold your soul when you voted for them even if they aren’t the Anti-Christ’s footsoliders. I’ve started see that take pop up in other places – it looks like maybe they’re starting to realize that by their own mythos, they’ve sided with the Devil and the bill’s coming due……
Pence got his lies out, particularly on coronavirus. I was waiting for Harris to make a comparison to the death counts in Europe, and point out that Trump-Pence can’t even control it in the White House.
I thought Harris did a poor job of skewering Pence. But that might not have been her goal, since then men would think she rhymes with kitch.
And I was annoyed that Pence kept talking over the moderator and Harris.
But, I would have said that Pence won by dominating the debate, getting his lies out with a clear authoritative voice, and not seeming insane.
I’m happy with the polling that women hated Pence. Plus it showed a huge blind spot in my judgement, and that’s always fun. I’m surprised men broke so evenly.
Kevin Drum has an interesting post up that notes that National Review is tripping over themselves to declare Pence the winner but he puts up several tweets that show that the kajillion times Pence interrupted Harris were noticed and not appreciated by both men & women.
I find that very interesting because it seems that no one cared that Clinton was interrupted probably 3X as much by Trump in the 2016 debates. Chalk this up as reason #767 as to why the GOP looks like they will take a beating in November. They seem pretty clueless when it comes to reading the room in 2020, which was putting off a much different vibe in 2016. In 2016, Trump was still the master of being able to enter a room, quickly size things up and come up with some zingers that could knock down a person’s ego a notch or two.
Trump, and the GOP certainly seem to have the yips when it comes to reading the room in 2020 as any attempts to knock Biden/Harris of balance are not sticking.
This year folks are giving Pence the stink-eye for noticing how many times he interrupted Harris but with Clinton folks were cheering after the debates when Trump interrupted Clinton to call her a nasty woman, etc..
It is like night and day when comparing 2016 to 2020 which is why Trump’s not deviating from the 2016 playbook for his re-election campaign is such a fail, as many others have already noted re-running 2016s playbook was a horrible idea and shows a failure of imagination on the part of Trump and his campaign, a campaign team that was supposed to have folks who were going to point the Death Star at Biden/Harris…but I am still waiting for that ominous shadow of the Death Star to appear in the skies.
I have read that that was the planned Pence strategy, to show off his Alpha male dominance by breaking rules such as time limits, etc. That tactic also emulates Trump, lets recall Trump demands sycophancy from his minions, so Pence probably had that in mind.
I showed my wife this thread and how many agreed with her. She wants me to add to her statement that the very many photos since 2016 where Pence is gazing adoringly at Trump show just how emasculated he is “in his day job”. “The problem with Pence is he’s not man enough to be a woman.”
Indeed, and that was her job, not to impress a former high school debater.
It’s on it’s way. It’ll just take some time. There’s been budget cuts at the USPS, y’know!
@Mikey: Turning it off to watch Schitt’s Creek is especially telling to me. I know that a fair number of people say it’s brilliant, but for me, SCTV type comedy wore out fairly quickly. “It was so boring that I watched Schitt’s Creek,” with all the choices available in the TV/Cable/Streaming market has an especially “I can’t go out with you, I have to wash my hair that night” quality to it. Great comparison! [thumbs up emoji here] 😛 😀
Neither candidate did well. Neither bombed. Harris, I think, missed the biggest opportunity. When Pence said their COVID plan was similar to their own, she should have said something along the lines of, “It is. Everyone has agreed on what needs to be done since March. The difference is, we’ll actually do it.”
Mean, but quick thinking. Again, good job [t.u.e.] 😀 😛
Just like a lot of men didn’t notice Trump’s creepy predatory behavior looming behind Clinton during the debate, but a LOT of women noticed and some were traumatized.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: I would put Schitt’s Creek in my top ten all-time comedies. The interplay between David and Alexis is lightning in a bottle.
I started to watch, but then I realized I find it infuriating to hear someone lie blatantly, especially about such important matters as the Trump pandemic. That was before Pence kept yakking away when his time was up.
So I found something else to watch.
@Michael Reynolds: I always respect your opinion but I thought Kamala came out ahead. Now this is just a subjective analysis and there is no true right answer but to me Kamala was friendlier, answered more (not all) questions, was clearer and did not backdown on some issues (e.g., environment). Pence evaded answering questions, lied often and ran over. Pence was indeed polite and played the acolyte part well enough by not being a blabbering sycophant like he usually does, but that is just not enough. ALERT: Frank Lutz manipulated his “independent” panel to initiate the narrative that Kamala is a cranky b-word (a la Hillary) by her facial expressions which is absurd as it sounds. Nevertheless, the whole Fox News network repeated the mantra as nectar from the Gods. Obviously they are setting the table for 2024. Quite misogynistic indeed.
@gVOR08: I repeat, they have no heart.
I think anyone who figures Pence won had way too high expectations that Harris would kneecap him like she’s done to so many in the Senate. That wasn’t her goal. She came across as likeable and caring and that’s what she and Biden are aiming at.
Pence’s lies and evasions were very transparent and I think only the dumbest watcher would fall for them. He overreaches with them. The US has the cleanest water in the world?
@Michael Reynolds: Fair, if you think she was there to “debate”. I dont believe that was their strategy because she left numerous counters to Pence on the table with not so much as 1 zinger.
It appears her goal was to speak to the voters that Joe isnt a radical, that he’s competent, and that Trump/Pence lie so much its not worth serious discussion.
I think she was a solid B+ in that effort.
So, based on the empirical evidence, 40% of voters?
She had to appear to have enough fortitude, and command of the issues, while not giving anybody the impression that she was angry, or shrill, or a ball buster. And didn’t want to make herself the story, either to upstage Biden or distract from Trump’s rolling catastrophe. A tough line to walk, and she walked it.
@OzarkHillbilly: I’ll give you that GOPs have no heart. Or brains or courage for that matter. How about I say Pence, as a total tool of the Koch Bro
s, is at the very CORE of the Republican Party? All faux populism and religious show over a hard core of plutocratic policy.
@Michael Reynolds: I was hanging around Political Wire last night, and in response to some commenters who were disappointed with her performance, I predicted the polls would show her as the winner. I’m not blind. I too was frustrated with her failure to respond to Pence’s lies. But I think she had a strategy, and followed it. She didn’t want to fall into Pence’s gaslighting trap that threw Tim Kaine off four years ago. She avoided engaging with him directly, she made her points against the Trump Admin–popular points that the public largely agrees with already, but which need to remain at the center of the public’s attention–and she also tried to come off likable and personable, which she did very well, especially across from a guy who seems never to smile.
Pence did not even seem to be trying to talk to swing voters; he was sticking heavily to talking points that only resonate with Trump’s base, such as Obama “spying” on the Trump campaign. He said things which a majority of voters are bound to find alienating, such as his attack on the ACA and his failure to offer a plan to protect people with preexisting conditions. When he asked Harris about whether she’d expand the SCOTUS and she dodged the issue, in some ways that was a bad moment for her–she came off seeming evasive. But it’s an issue which I doubt very many voters care about, so when Pence started going on about the supreme importance of a 9-seat court, it just made him seem petty and out of touch.
I’m getting distinct 2008 vibes about this race–which is encouraging, given its outcome. McCain was a very different candidate from Trump in a lot of ways, but he was someone who thrived on “stunts,” and after the crash of the banks and Palin’s disastrous interviews, his stunts increasingly came off seeming desperate (remember Joe the Plumber?). I remember watching the first debate and thinking it was more or less a draw, but the polls showed Obama clearly seen as the winner. I think what happens in situations like this is that when one candidate is clearly ahead and the other appears to be in free-fall, the debates typically just end up reinforcing this narrative unless the candidate who’s the underdog does seriously well (Kerry in 2004, Romney in 2012–neither of whom ended up winning the election but did at least temporarily improve their standing in the race). And when the country is suffering, Republicans become vulnerable to being perceived as out of touch. That’s part of what happened in 1992, as well. That’s why I intuited Harris would be seen as the winner, despite being underwhelming in certain ways.
I don’t recall that from 2008. I remember there being a lot of concern in advance that Biden not be seen as “beating up on a girl,” and the consensus afterward was that he nailed that, remaining polite and respectful, even when Palin made a cruel joke about his wife.
I find it interesting that in 2008, Biden was the one who had to be restrained so as to not be seen as attacking a woman, and here Harris, a woman, was the one required to be restrained (so as not to be seen as an “angry black woman.”)
This is surprising and encouraging:
It was clear that Pence couldn’t get beyond the Trump Bullshit Silo. But I was scoring it as a debate per se, and of course that’s not what these things are, they’re for pushing a message out. Even at that she could have done better, especially in the first half hour. But in the end, like just about every Veep debate ever, it’s essentially irrelevant.
@Michael Reynolds: My only regret was I thought she should have opened a veiled line of attack along the lines of:
“Mike, I know you’re are a decent man and Im disappointed you have to put on like this for him when we could be having a real discussion the voters would be interested in–”
Of course, the decent man part is a lie but it tosses his supporters a bone.
@Jim Brown 32: ‘him’ being Trump watching the debate
Perhaps, from time to time, Pence should have lunch, alone with a woman, so that she can explain “mansplainin” to him.
@Jen: Meanwhile on my facebook I have right wing “friends” ranting about how Harris got so much more time to speak than Pence…..
@Matt: Same here. I spent the first 20 minutes or so of the debate on a Facebook post by a “friend” who kept claiming they were cutting Pence off early, so I started timing and typing, and pointing out every instance he went over his time….until they deleted the post. 😉
@Jim Brown 32:
It was very frustrating because, like you, I have all the clapbacks fused, loaded and ready to launch. I’d have left Pence bleeding on the floor. But no one would have liked me much, and no one would have thought I should be a heartbeat away from the presidency. Worse by far if I were a woman.
Long ago I realized something about myself: I can play Spock, but I am not Kirk. I prefer being right to leading.