The VP Debate
Analyzing a debate like the VP debate tonight is an interesting endeavor. So many different ways to measure it. In some ways the VP debate is much more interesting to breakdown than the P debate because that one was such an insufferable circus.
I thought I would give my thoughts in response to several questions that address the various perspectives one might use to measure success in an event like this.
1. Did either candidate change anyone’s mind? I’d say no. Just my guess. Harris and Pence played mostly to their bases and seemed to do little to try to court the other side. The possible exception is that Harris was much more personable and I suppose her more folksy approach (calling Biden Joe all night, saying “ya’ll”, her exchange about it being ok to call her by her first name, her perpetual smile, the way that she explained basic terms like “bounty”, etc) could have appealed to someone who has watched zero news and is just sitting down to decide which VP they happen to like better. And maybe more significantly, it is also possible that Pence continued the work Trump did alienating women voters. Polling seems to indicate that the interrupting, going past the stop point, fighting with the moderator and such really turns women away. Pence was waaaaaaaaaaaay better than Trump on that score, but still not great.
Perhaps the most meaningful part of the entire debate was when the moderator had to stop and lecture him on the rules. I think if he had pushed the line but avoided that reprimand, it would have been much less of an issue. But when that happened it seemed too close to Trump’s disastrous performance in his own debate.
2. Who was the better debater?
Before answering that, let me just say that is a tough, tough, thing to do well. That much pressure, that many eyeballs on you, no way to know what the questions would be or what your opponent will say. Trying to stay on message while at least acting like you are answering the questions and appearing tough and in command. It’s easy to just say, “eh, they’re politicians, it’s what they do” but I think that sells them short. 99% of the population would have just stared back into the camera and muttered until they ran off the stage in tears. I’m telling you, that’s no easy task.
And, while I know in this election everyone already thinks their candidate was near perfect while the opponent was insufferable, I actually thought they both did a pretty amazing job. While we’re here, try this self-check. Can you bring yourself to say anything positive about the other side? Can you see any weakness of your own? If not, you may have an idol rather than a political candidate. Just think about it.
Harris was relatively likeable and relatable. She had the better sound bites and gave some really good responses especially to the Covid related questions. But there were a couple times she tried to address Pence head on and lost. She fumbled a bit and he was ready each time. This was most evident when she tried to engage Pence on the tax cut. When he answered her pledge to roll back Trump’s tax cut by pointing out that would raise taxes for everyone, she lost her way for a moment. Even though she’s the former prosecutor, he was the tougher questioner and got the better of her on the economy and the supreme court. And she let him off the hook on white supremacy and the environment especially.
He did not manage his time as well as she did. Pence had much tougher questions to answer owing to the dismal record of his administration so he was playing defense and catch up most of the night. He seemed to have no plan and no real explanation for why he and Trump deserve another term. He was stilted to the point that a fly landed on him without him knowing in a Westworld sort of moment. (He is definitely a host). But he was also gracious and even complimentary to Harris several times. Something his boss would never do. He over talked as discussed above, but I think that cuts both ways.
As much as that alienates women voters, I think it also plays well to many men. This is not because Harris is a woman, it is because many men expect a sort of dominant style from their top leaders. So, within a certain spectrum, pushing back, refusing to be bossed around by the moderator and bending the format to his own purpose may have helped him with men as much as it hurt with women (apologies for the over generalizations on both sides).
Overall, I thought it basically a draw if I was scoring the debate just as a debating exercise and honestly I might lean slightly toward Pence if you are ignoring things like truth and following the rules. In other words, not looking at the substance of the answers but just the skills of a debater. Both answered the questions they wanted to answer rather than the ones asked. Both got a few zingers in on the other. Both kept their poise and both stayed on message and even handled very difficult facts and spun them in their favor.
I know all my Trump hating friends who have grown to enjoy my Trump bashing posts are going to hate this and think I’m crazy, but I thought Pence did a good job tonight and except for pushing the over talking a little far, often out debated Harris.
3. Who won? This one is fairly easy. Biden. For one thing, i don’t think this debate matters that much which is a win for Biden because he’s winning and Trump needed a clear victory and didn’t get it. Instead, Harris more than held her own and nothing in this debate changed the dynamic of the race.
Also, Pence lied and lied and lied or at least ignored the facts. The guy whose team just allowed 200k (and counting) people to die by mishandling a disease in the name of ignorance and politics doesn’t get to say “stop playing politics with people’s lives.” I did not think that landed well. His accusations about what Biden will do don’t match Biden’s actual statements or records.
And the debate highlighted the biggest issues with Trump. He lied to the public. He sided with the white supremacists. He is presiding over a terrible economy. He hates Obamacare but has no plan of his own. He talks vaguely about making America great, but has weakened America in every conceivable way in this last term and seems to have no plan for his second except….more of the same?
Harris hit all the right buttons on substance. She got in trouble talking about taxes once she got past her sound bite, but other than that, she hit failure to lead on covid, bad economy right now, terrible foreign policy record, racist, pro-rich at the expense of everyone else. Bad leadership, bad record, bad values. That’s the recipe and she nailed it I thought.
Pence had a lot of spinning and I thought he was particularly strong on taxes, but mostly he was there to talk to Trumpublicans. Pro-life, pro police, pro capitalism, pro business. And I thought he made those points well enough to not get scolded by Trump, but to “win” he needed to completely reset the whole stage and there was no real way he was going to do that.
4. Why don’t they just turn the mic off when people go past time especially when this is all for TV?
For the life of me I can’t figure it out. Such an obvious solution to the biggest problem in the debates.
5. What did you like?
I liked Pence talking respectfully about Harris’s career and accomplishments.
I liked the fact that they both mostly let the other one speak (relatively).
I liked that Harris in particular gave actual substantive answers with actual details about policy. Harris’s discussion about policing and investing money from tax increases especially were nice in that they contained more than just political talking points.
I liked Harris’s answer on Breonna Taylor. She didn’t get justice. What would justice be for being gunned down in your own home while unarmed and innocent? Harris started slow on the answer but got where she needed to go. ….but Pence’s answer was pretty good on this too. He turned it back around to try to get Harris to criticize a grand jury of regular citizens who make much tougher targets than the police. Agree with it or not, it was sneaky smart.
I liked that I knew as soon as that fly landed, there would be a million memes about flies being attracted to feces and the internet did not disappoint.
I liked that they were both called out by an 8th grader who without even being there seemed like the adult in the room.
I liked Pence’s line about “you can have your own opinion but not your own facts.” Though he killed it by repeating it.
I liked her don’t lecture me about law enforcement rant. Though she killed it by repeating it.
I liked her telling the moderator it was ok to call her by her first name.
6. What did you not like?
I didn’t like Harris’s answer about court packing.
I didn’t like Harris letting Pence off the hook on supporting white supremacists.
I didn’t like the moderator interrupting by thanking Pence for ignoring the rules.
I didn’t like how impossible it is to get a politician to give a direct answer to anything. I can’t tell you how much I would love to cross examine them in a court room.
I didn’t like Pence taking no responsibility for the Covid failures.
I didn’t like the complete lack of respect Pence had for fact.
I didn’t like that Pence’s wife didn’t wear a mask.
I didn’t like Harris’s happy smug demeanor at the beginning of the debate. Thankfully, this changed about 20 minutes in and she nailed it from there on out.
I didn’t like that after 4 years Pence could give no details on the administration’s plan for health care or job creation or climate change (another place harris let him off the hook. His answer was such BS and they just let it go) or really anything related to specific policy. It’s like the whole plan for 8 years was to build a wall in places that don’t protect our border, cut taxes and deregulate business. That’s it. Now they have nothing? Why am I surprised?
I didn’t like that I watched the whole time thinking this is the most civility we will see out of politicians on either side for the rest of the year.
Ok that’s enough for tonight. What did you think?