Vice Presidential Debate Recap

Photo credit Lawrence Jackson under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

On Oct. 7, the world saw the only vice presidential debate of the 2020 general election between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris. The debate was hosted by the University of Utah and was moderated by Susan Page from USA Today

After President Trump tested positive for the coronavirus, the debate was held behind plexiglass dividers, with the candidates 12 feet apart. Vice presidential debates don’t historically gain as much publicity as presidential debates, but with President Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis-and considering both Donald Trump and Joe Biden are the oldest candidates to ever run for president-this debate garnered massive viewership. 

The debate had a vastly different dynamic when compared to President Trump and former Vice President Biden’s debate the week prior. While President Trump and Mr. Biden spent most of the debate on the offensive and both candidates exhibited a very lively attitude, Harris and Pence kept a calmer tone and focused  on highlighting the weaknesses of each other’s running mates. Harris, the first Black American as well as Asian American vice presidential nominee, is the second woman in history to participate in the vice-presidential debate. Before the vice presidential nomination, Harris was known for her sharp interrogations during senate hearings. Mike Pence, on the other hand,  had broadcasting experience as a host of a conservative radio show prior to entering politics.  

The debate started with conversation about the coronavirus pandemic. Harris began by attacking the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic in the country. Harris alleged that “On Jan. 28, the vice president and the president were informed about the nature of this pandemic. They were informed that it’s lethal.” Pence quickly defended the administration, citing the travel restrictions to China that President Trump enacted in January, when initial talk about the virus began. Pence also vouched for the administration’s quick actions in producing a vaccine, and promised viewers that a vaccine would be ready by the end of the year.

While the conversation remained civil, both candidates dodged specific questions asked by the moderator. Pence redirected questions away from President Trump’s statements about not accepting election results and what that could mean for a transition of power. Harris also redirected questions about changing the amount of justices on the Supreme Court, a topic discussed by Democrats concerned with President Trump’s potential third appointment to the court in the wake of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. 

Both candidates gave vague answers and avoided questions when it came to climate change. Pence claimed a Biden administration would ban fracking while Harris responded that Biden would not do so, though the Biden campaign has vocalized their support for clean energy. In response to what President Trump’s plan for climate change may be, Pence argued, “Now with regard to climate change, the climate is changing. But the issue is, what’s the cause? And what do we do about it? President Trump has made it clear that we’re going to continue to listen to the science.” 

Other important topics discussed throughout the night were the economy, NAFTA, foreign policy, and the military. Voting during the pandemic was also an important topic, with Pence claiming, “President Trump and I are fighting every day in courthouses to prevent Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from changing the rules and creating this universal mail-in voting that will create a massive opportunity for voter fraud.” Currently, there is no universal mail system, with many Democrats gravely concerned about how ballots will be sent out and counted to qualify for the election this year. Aside from the politics of the debate, one of the most memorable moments came when a fly landed on Pence’s head for a couple minutes, becoming a popular topic of discussion on social media. 

Was there a clear winner of the vice presidential debate? Both candidates made good points and held a more refined dialogue than that of the presidential candidates, yet both VP candidates spent most of their time defending their running mates rather than discussing clear policy changes under either administration. Harris carried a powerful presence, affirming “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking” when Pence tried to talk over her. Pence had a strong defense of the president and made a case for President Trump’s reelection, which was not as apparent during the previous presidential debate. 

This was the only vice presidential debate the American public would get this year. In place of another formal presidential debate, President Trump and former Vice President Biden will be hosting separate televised town halls.