TV duel Pence vs. Harris: A debate that brings the US election campaign back to normal
US Vice President Pence and Democratic Vice Candidate Harris meet at a time when the 2020 US election year seems to be completely out of joint. And suddenly something like normality sets in. For a moment.
The black fly lands on the silver hair as if it had been attracted by a magnet. Suddenly it is there – and at first it doesn’t fly away again. US Vice President Mike Pence just spoke of a “great insult” and is taking a rhetorical pause. He doesn’t seem to take any notice of the fly – unlike numerous viewers and commentators of the only TV debate between Pence and Democratic runner-up Kamala Harris ahead of the November 3rd US election. The attention paid to the fly shows how calm the duel was on Wednesday evening.
Harris and Pence met in Salt Lake City, Utah, at a time when the 2020 election year seems to be completely out of control. A few hours earlier, US President Donald Trump had announced in the garden of the White House that he had discovered a cure for the coronavirus with which he had previously been infected through “God’s blessing”.
Harris criticizes Trump: “embarrassment for eternity”
After his positive test became known on Friday and the short hospital stay, the TV debate between Trump and his challenger Joe Biden, which was sunk in chaos last week, has almost been forgotten. The opponents did not save with insults, Trump kept interrupting Biden, Biden now and then also Trump. Subsequently the performance was described as “shameful” and “ugly”, as “embarrassment for eternity”.
When Harris and Pence sat on stage on Wednesday, the memory came back. The events of the past few days have divided the two: Because of concerns about further infections, they separated a more than 3.5 meter safety distance and Plexiglas panes. The two politicians argued, but they didn’t clash in one tour. They let each other finish speaking – at least mostly. “The most striking thing was just (…) how normal it felt. It felt like a normal traditional debate, despite the very unusual circumstances,” ABC News reporter Mary Bruce said afterwards.
The delicate question of the age of the candidates
In the past, the vice-debates were more of a sideline on the home stretch, but this year’s one was given more importance than ever. 77-year-old Biden and 74-year-old incumbent Trump are the oldest presidential candidates in US history. Since it became clear that Biden was going into the race against Trump for the Democrats, the possible transfer of power to the Vice President was no longer an absurd scenario. Trump’s corona infection has made it clear that this applies to both sides.
Biden’s decision to make former prosecutor Kamala Harris his runner-up received a lot of attention. Biden’s election was celebrated as “historic” in August: The 55-year-old could be the first woman and first black woman to hold the office of vice president. With her, however, Biden also paved the way for the not too distant future to have a first woman and black woman in the highest office of the state. But in the last few weeks, Harris went under in the heavily run-down election campaign. The politics website “The Hill” commented: “Kamala Harris has gone from a historic (…) election to an invisible running figure.”
The debate was an important opportunity for Harris to counter this impression shortly before the election. Instead of taking Pence in her notorious cross-examination, the former public prosecutor meticulously adhered to the rules of the game – probably also in order not to offer Trump’s campaign team a target. When Pence spoke, she would comment on his statements with a sympathetic smile, raised eyebrows, or shake her head instead of interrupting him. When he did, she said, “Mr. Vice President, I’ll speak now.”
Harris insists on more speaking time
She insisted on more speaking time if Pence continued speaking calmly, although presenter Susan Page had already taken the floor again. At one point she said she was not being taught by Pence. And Harris used the very beginning to send her decisive message: “The American people have witnessed the greatest failure of a government in the history of our country,” she said with a view to the Corona crisis and the more than 210,000 deaths more than 7.5 million infections.
However, in other places she missed the opportunity to emphasize her message. For example, when Pence was approached about an event in the Rose Garden of the White House that turned out to be a superspreader event and at which the government publicly disregarded corona health agency guidelines.
Pence places his messages
For his part, Pence repeatedly ignored the moderator’s questions and instead placed the messages he wanted to convey. When asked about the position on abortions, he first went on about how the Trump administration had killed Iran’s top general Ghassem Soleimani with a missile attack.
Not only did Pence defend Trump’s government in the debate, he also made it clear that he was the same policy – just without all the fuss. The 61-year-old is absolutely loyal to Trump, but his nature is in stark contrast to his boss. He is inconspicuous, calm, controlled. He’s deeply religious and a tough conservative.
“The possibility that either of these two people, the victorious Vice-President, could become President in the next four years has certainly increased,” said the moderator of the last TV debate, journalist Chris Wallace, on Wednesday. Still, he is not sure whether the debate will make a big difference in the end of the election campaign. Unless something very dramatic happens. For once, that didn’t happen. The fly didn’t change that either.
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cba / dpa