You can’t be mad at him. When Mike Pence is on the podium, with an extremely correct short hairstyle, a shy smile, a pinched suit, he looks like the most harmless man in the world. The appearance of the Vice-President of US President Donald Trump in the debate against the Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris should be a signal: Look, we Republicans can do otherwise.
“Thank you, Susan”
Because a week earlier, Pence’s boss had made a memorable appearance that made even die-hard observers shudder. In the first TV duel with his opponent Joe Biden, Trump repeatedly interrupted the Democrats, argued with the presenter, threw lies and conspiracy theories around.
In the polls, Trump, who was also infected with the corona virus, fell even further behind Biden in the last week. Trump is now in the surveys with an average of 9.5 percentage points behind his challenger – before the first debate it was seven percentage points.
Mike Pence therefore did his best not to look like Donald Trump. He presented his answers in a calm voice, thanking presenter Susan Page for every question with a “Thank you, Susan”, and sometimes he even let his opponent Harris finish speaking. He even had one or two praise for his opponent ready: for example, when he congratulated Harris for her “groundbreaking” candidacy as the first woman for the office of Vice President.
Lies from the sentence construction kit
But as soon as there was more demand than a mere facade, as soon as Pence had to talk about plans and concepts and contents, the Vice President reminded his boss. Because in their messages, Pence and Trump did not differ a bit.
Pence also lied uncontrollably when it came to the election manifesto of opponent Joe Biden, claiming that Biden wanted to abolish the controversial oil production technique fracking and increase taxes for the middle class. (Both are not true.) The corona crisis management of his government defended Pence with the argument that Trump had completely stopped the entry from China early on (which is half right at best). And when it came to the integrity of the upcoming election, Pence bombarded viewers with long-disproved conspiracy theories. Trump had already used all of these false claims a week ago, some with identical sentence components.
Change of topic in 90 seconds
There are two reasons for the Pence strategy: On the one hand, the Vice President is considered a loyal companion who would never stab Trump in the back. In fact, few of Trump’s close associates have managed to keep their jobs since taking office in January 2017 – Pence is one of them. On the other hand, many Republican positions, such as health policy, are so unpopular that it would be political suicide to articulate them honestly. About 72 percent of Americans believe that state health insurance, which Republicans want to end without replacement, should be at least partially preserved.
A 90-minute debate turns into a minefield this way, but Mike Pence is skilled enough as a speaker to avoid almost any trap. He rarely gave an answer that matched the question. Telling about the moment when Pence was asked about the Trump administration’s plan for state health insurance: Within 60 seconds, Pence managed to change the subject completely – and corner Harris with a question about the Supreme Court.
On the other hand, US voters learned nothing about the Trump administration’s health policy. One of Mike Pence’s greatest talents is speaking for five minutes without answering the question, Trump once said. He meant that as a compliment.
The main thing is a calm voice
Trump has always lacked this skill. The emotional US president never managed to hide his real intentions, making his lies easier for a large part of the electorate to see through. In a way, Trump does it more honestly than pence – and pence more dangerous than Trump.
What if Trump’s demagogic flair meets the callousness of a career Republican? The Americans will find out by 2024 at the latest, when Trump finally has to resign. Because the Republican Party has long since become the image of the President.