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After a heated debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden last month, characterized by constant interruptions, naming and a moderator unable to control the discussion, the Vice Presidential debate on Wednesday evening was a return to a more traditional affair.
It is unclear whether it will be the final debate in the 2020 presidential campaign. Trump is recovering in the White House and falling off – at least for now – from campaigning after being hospitalized for COVID-19. The president said he plans to travel to Miami next Thursday for the scheduled city hall-style debate, and Biden said he also plans to attend – but only when the president is no longer sick.
While most voters don’t base their decision on the vice presidential nominee, the 2020 competition may be different. Biden is 77 years old and has presented himself to the next generation of the Democratic Party as a “transitional figure”. And the president is 74 and struggling with a serious illness.
The vice presidential debate probably wouldn’t change the minds of many voters or change the course of the race, but it did show sharp contrasts between the two party’s agendas for business, healthcare, and more. Here are four takeaways from the Vice Presidential Debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif .:
1. The 2020 election still depends on the coronavirus.
From the start of the debate, the focus was on the pandemic. Spectators were warned not to take off their masks. The candidates sat at desks that were more than ten feet apart and were separated from each other by plexiglass panels. It was also the first topic.
Harris was aggressive and took up the central argument of the Democratic Ticket that the Trump administration’s handling of the novel coronavirus was “the greatest failure of a presidential administration in the history of our country”. She accused the president of covering up information about the virus when he was briefed by his national security team in January, arguing that Trump still has no plan to fight the disease.
Pence defended the president’s record, citing Trump’s decision to curtail travel from China in late January as evidence that he took the threat seriously. He noted that the Biden-Harris team’s plan to fight the coronavirus with testing and developing a vaccine reflected the actions the administration had already taken. “It looks a bit like plagiarism,” said Pence.
He also tried to portray Harris’s criticism of the government’s response as an attack on the sacrifices Americans had made during the crisis, a response that appeared to have stalled.
Throughout the debate, whether it was business or healthcare, Harris returned to the government’s response to the pandemic.
Pence, in turn, pointed to what he called record-breaking advances in the development of a vaccine and, as the president had previously said, promised that millions of doses would be available by the end of the year.
Harris said she was taking a medical-approved vaccine, but “if Donald Trump tells us to take it, I won’t take it.”
Pence said Harris was trying to “undermine public confidence in efforts to develop and approve a vaccine.” “Stop making politics with people’s lives,” he said.
2. This time there was actual debate, but not necessarily answers to the moderator’s questions.
There were far fewer disruptive, angry discussions and fewer personal attacks than in the presidential debate. Moderator Susan Page, Washington office manager of USA today, called for “respectful exchanges” and regularly reminded that candidates’ responses should be “uninterrupted”.
Pence and Harris didn’t always stick to it. And Harris pushed back and called Pence as he began stepping on her answers or taking her time. She scolded him: “Mr. Vice President, I will speak. I will speak.” – Make it clear that she would not let a male adversary get away with intimidation tactics.
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Both candidates often avoided the questions altogether. The moderator decided to move on to new topics instead of asking follow-up questions. This was a missed opportunity on some key issues that might have resulted in news, or at least an education, to voters about the positions of the candidates. Both ignored a key question that might come to the fore, given Biden’s age and the president’s illness – what would you do if the president were incapacitated?
Pence did not respond on how a Trump-pence administration would protect pre-existing conditions if the Affordable Care Act were crushed by the Supreme Court. Nor did he explain what he would do if the president did not accept the election results or agreed to a peaceful transfer of power.
Harris refused to answer a question asked by both the moderator and, again, by Pence, whether she supported what many liberal activists are pushing: adding judges to the Supreme Court – court wrapping. Biden avoided the same question in the first debate.
And both also eluded the question of what states should do if the Supreme Court takes action Roe v. calfwhat would leave the states to write abortion laws.
3. The candidates’ strategies reflected the state of the campaign – Pence attacked Biden-Harris as extreme; Harris turned to Trump’s record on the coronavirus.
Pence’s style of debate is almost the opposite of the President’s. Calm and disciplined, he was preparing to paint the Biden-Harris ticket as a prisoner of the far left of the Democratic Party, particularly on economic issues.
The economy has consistently been the GOP ticket’s biggest problem with voters, but that strength has diminished as the country grapples with job losses and business closings. The vice president cited an analysis that showed Harris was the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate in 2019, and he repeatedly tied the Democratic ticket to the Green New Deal, a proposal the progressives put forward in Congress to reshuffle the economy with new energy infrastructure shape. While Harris supported the proposal prior to being nominated, Biden did not.
Pence also claimed that Biden’s vow to reverse the president’s tax cuts for 2017 would result in tax hikes for Americans once they took office, when in fact it would require an act of Congress.
Harris appeared in the crowded Democratic primary debates but had less experience in the debating phase. Drawing on her skills as a prosecutor, she was charged with cracking down on Trump’s handling of the pandemic and its economic impact. She made Pence Trump’s deputy on the matter.
In multiple conversations, Harris stepped straight out of the way to answer questions from the moderator and instead shifted the conversation to Trump. She used a question on the Breonna Taylor case in Kentucky to remind the audience of a breathtaking moment in the Biden-Trump debate when the president refused to denounce white supremacists.
4. A fly produced the most buzz.
Eric Baradat / AFP via Getty Images
The debate didn’t produce much news or many knock-out lines. When a fly landed and stayed on the Vice President’s head for more than two minutes, people got fixated and many hit social media, unable to weigh up with jokes. At the discussion venue, great emphasis was placed on health precautions, ventilation systems and testing of the participants. But the appearance of an insect was a scenario no one was prepared for, and it was hard to ignore.
Shortly after the debate ended, the Biden campaign ran an ad for a branded fly swatter.