At the vice-presidential debate Wednesday, Kamala Harris baldly claimed a President Joe Biden would do things it would not be in his power to do — like eliminate a tax-cut law passed by Congress on Day One and ban cash bail and choke holds, which are largely governed by state law — while refusing to answer Mike Pence’s forceful and repeated question about whether she and Biden would work to pack the Supreme Court.
“I just want the record to reflect she never answered the question,” Pence said in the sharpest moment of the night. Pence was focused and determined, and often returned to score a point on an earlier question after formulating a clear answer during Harris’s time.
For Republicans distressed by Donald Trump’s outrageous and perplexing behavior over the past week, Pence offered a calming 90 minutes of plain and simple political competence. The news and the polling have been so bad that for this relief they are certain to give much thanks.
That said, I don’t think Pence won the debate because I don’t think Harris lost the debate. She was evasive at times, but she hit her marks and made the points she had clearly spent weeks honing.
Most notably if not most interestingly, she hammered home without any shame a total change in her position and Biden’s position on the oil-extraction practice known as “fracking,” saying flatly (as Biden has) that he would not ban fracking when both of them said repeatedly in 2019 that they would.
That shameless policy switcheroo is about one thing and one thing only — fracking-dependent Pennsylvania, the state that Trump must absolutely win if he is to have any chance of prevailing in November. Biden is leading there in the poll averages, and he’s clearly going to do whatever hypocritical thing it takes to try and end Trump’s political life there.
Harris began by saying that the Trump administration’s response to COVID was the worst presidential failure in American history, which was a strikingly grand claim but an arguable one, given the scale of the COVID crisis.
Pence reacted angrily by saying Harris was insulting the American people who have sacrificed so much to play their role in combating and mitigating and fighting the disease.
It was a nervy deflection, so nervy that it reminded me a little of Otter in “National Lampoon’s Animal House” marching his fraternity brothers out a college disciplinary hearing by claiming that the attack on their frat was an attack on the United States of America.
Pence pushed Harris on issue after issue — her ticket’s slipperiness on the Green New Deal, their discomfort with the raid that killed Iranian terror master Qassem Solemani, and her own record as a prosecutor. Harris mostly did not take the bait, but said she would not be lectured by
Pence on criminal-justice matters.
Whether you thought she was emoting improperly or taking a passionate stand on behalf of herself and other women of color is a total Rorschach test. I thought it was cheap but then, I would, which is my point.
Alas, the substantive aspects of the evening were largely meaningless because this election is about one thing — Trump. Trump, Trump, Trump. His inconstancy on issues, and Biden’s absolute determination to be nothing more than the Not Trump, made it hard to focus even though the discussion was relatively civil and about matters other than personalities.
One mark of how the words at any debate can be overtaken by unforeseen events was the fact that for about three minutes in the last half-hour, a bug evidently got caught in Mike Pence’s spritzed coif and stayed there while he spoke and while he didn’t — making it impossible to pay the slightest attention to the words he spoke.
“Waiter,” Pence should have said, “there’s a fly in my hair.”
That would have been the greatest moment in debate history