During the contentious first presidential debate, President Trump quipped to moderator Chris Wallace, “I guess I’m debating you, not him, but that’s ok.”
Trump was reacting to what seemed like a salvo of questions coming at him from the Democratic point of view, while none were directed at Joe Biden from the Republican point of view. For what it’s worth, Wallace is the son of long-time CBS journalist Mike Wallace, and is himself a registered Democrat in heavily Democratic Washington, D.C.
Republicans have long complained that when it comes to major debates, using mainstream media journalists as moderators automatically skews debates to the left because the media is overwhelmingly made up of liberals and registered Democrats. This is simply a fact: surveys have shown that the media, along with academia, is among the most politically homogenous industries in the country. It’s not even close to balanced. In 2014, a widely cited survey found that just 7% of journalists are registered Republicans. There is no working diversity of opinion in the media.
The odds of a debate moderator who hails from the mainstream media being conservative or even moderate are vanishingly small.
But let’s put last night’s vice presidential debate to the test. Here’s the full transcript. Susan Page of USA Today served as the moderator.
I’ve compiled all of the debate questions, in bold below, omitting answers, cross-talk, and times when Page simply gave one candidate a few seconds to respond to something the other candidate had just said. What we’re left with are the questions Page chose to ask. I’ve added my analysis of each question from a partisan policy point of view.
1. Senator Harris, the coronavirus is not under control. Over the past week, Johns Hopkins reports that 39 states have had more COVID cases over the past seven days than in the week before. Nine states have set new records. Even if a vaccine is released soon, the next administration will face hard choices. What would a Biden administration do in January and February that a Trump administration wouldn’t do? Would you impose new lockdowns for businesses and schools in hotspots? A federal mandate to wear masks? You have two minutes to respond, without interruption.
Nothing about the fact that deaths and lockdowns have both been concentrated in Dem states. That GOP states are doing economically better? Just…what’s your awesome plan, Democrat vice-presidential nominee?
2. Vice President Pence, more than 210,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since February. The US death toll as a percentage of our population is higher than that of almost every other wealthy nation on Earth. For instance, our death rate is two and a half times that of Canada, next door. You head the administration’s Coronavirus Task Force. Why is the U.S. death toll, as a percentage of our population, higher than that of almost every other wealthy country? And you have two minutes to respond, without interruption.
Again, nothing about the fact that death tolls in Democrat states skew U.S. numbers or that New York and New Jersey are still responsible for the lion’s share of COVID deaths. Nothing about the nursing home death scandal or Cuomo’s denial that it ever happened. Bias by omission is still bias.
3. Vice President Pence, you in the front row in a Rose Garden event 11 days ago, at what seems to have been a super-spreader event for senior administration and congressional officials, no social distancing, few masks, and now a cluster of coronavirus cases among those who were there. How can you expect Americans to follow the administration safety guidelines to protect themselves from COVID when you were at the White House have not been doing so?
Another accusatory question from Page to Pence without anything similarly directed at Harris.
4. For life to get back to normal Dr. Anthony Fauci and other experts say that most of the people who can be vaccinated need to be vaccinated, but half of Americans now say they wouldn’t take a vaccine if it was released now. If the Trump administration approves a vaccine, before after the election, should Americans take it and would you take it?
This question came nearly 14 minutes into the debate. Page could have noted that Harris has already created distrust over a vaccine with her own public statements, but chose not to. Instead, by tone, Page tilted it toward Harris.
5. Vice President Pence, there have been a lot of repercussions from this pandemic. In recent days, the president’s diagnosis of COVID-19 has underscored the importance of the job that you hold, and that you are seeking. That’s our second topic tonight, it’s the role of the vice president. One of you will make history on January 20, you will be the vice president to the oldest president the United States has ever had. Donald Trump will be 74-years-old on Inauguration Day. Joe Biden will be 78-years-old. That already has raised concerns among some voters, concerns that have been sharpened by President Trump’s hospitalization in recent days. Vice President Pence, have you had a conversation or reached an agreement with President Trump about safeguards or procedures when it comes to the issue of presidential disability? And if not, do you think you should? You have two minutes without interruption.
A fair question, but one that no sitting vice president will actually answer in any detail because of the national security implications. Pence wisely sidestepped it. Harris just flat out ignored it, despite the fact that Biden clearly does have developing cognitive issues. Trump, as we all know, worked uninterrupted through his brief hospitalization.
6. You know neither, neither President Trump nor Vice President Biden has released the sort of detailed health information that had become the modern norm until the 2016 election. And in recent days, President Trump’s doctors have given misleading answers or refused to answer basic questions about his health. And my question to each of you, in turn, is, is this information voters deserve to know? Vice President Pence, would you like to go first?
Another pro-Democrat set-up based on assumptions many in the media have made based on their own speculations, but not on proven known facts.
7. I wanna give Senator Harris a chance to respond to the same question I asked, which is do voters have a right to know more detailed health information about presidential candidates, and especially about presidents, especially when they’re facing some kind of challenge?
That’s Page’s idea of bringing balance to the question — once again going after the Republican while leaving the Democrat off the hook. This question would have been the perfect opportunity for a fair moderator to ask why Biden has called so many media lids during the campaign. Page never brought that subject up.
8. We have a jobs crisis brewing. On Friday, we learned that the unemployment rate had declined to 7.9% in September, but the job growth had stalled, and that was before the latest round of layoffs and furloughs in the airline industry, at Disney and elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands of discouraged workers have stopped looking to work. Nearly 11 million jobs that existed at the beginning of the year, haven’t been replaced. Those hardest hit include Latinos, blacks and women. Senator Harris, the Biden Harris campaign has proposed new programs to boost the economy and you would pay for that new spending by raising $4 trillion in taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations. Some economists warn that could curb entrepreneurial ventures that fuel growth and create jobs. Would raising taxes for the recovery at risk? And you have two minutes to answer, uninterrupted.
The set-up lacks meaningful context: The Trump economy was the best on record, until the pandemic and the shutdowns. Democrat states are disproportionately shut down to this day, while Republican states tend to be more open and their economies tend to be stronger now. None of these facts made their way into Page’s question. The question she did ask skews toward “entrepreneurial ventures,” which leaves out most Americans who work jobs at companies owned by others.
9. Vice President Pence, your administration has been predicting a rapid and robust recovery, but the latest economic report suggests that’s not happening. Should Americans be braced for an economic comeback that is going to take not months, but a year or more? You have two minutes to answer, uninterrupted.
Again, the necessary context is lacking. The main thing slowing recovery is the ongoing shutdowns, which are happening mostly in Democrat states and jurisdictions. Michican Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) is even keeping the state shut despite court rulings that she has no legal authority to do so. Page never once mentions this or puts it into the jobs context.
10. Thank you very, very much, Vice President Pence. Once again you provided the perfect segue to a new topic, which is climate change. And Vice President Pence, I’d like to pose the first question to you. This year we’ve seen record-setting hurricanes in the south. Another one, Hurricane Delta is now threatening the Gulf. And we have seen record-setting wildfires in the West. Do you believe, as the scientific community has concluded, that man-made climate change has made wildfires bigger, hotter and more deadly? And it made hurricanes wetter, slower and more damaging? You have two minutes, uninterrupted.
Thirty-three minutes in, and Page reaches for a question chock full of disputable scientific claims the Democrats push to move their policy proposals forward. Page simply states the claims as fact. But there is no evidence that hurricanes are worse now than previous years or centuries. Texas and California have roughly the same amount of forest, but Texas tends to fare better against wildfires than California. Is this climate change, or mismanagement at work? You’ll never even hear a question along this line from Susan Page.
11. Senator Harris, as the Vice President mentioned, you co-sponsored the Green New Deal in Congress, but Vice President Biden said in last week’s debate that he does not support the Green New Deal. But if you look at the Biden Harris campaign website it describes the Green New Deal as a crucial framework. What exactly would be the stance of a Biden Harris Administration toward the green New Deal? You have two minutes, uninterrupted.
This is the first question designed to put the Democrat on the defensive. It’s more than 36 minutes into the debate. It’s also the last question designed to put the Democrat on the defensive. And as we’ll see, Page used Harris’ answer to create the next gotcha question for Pence on the fly.
12. Senator Harris just said that climate change is an existential threat. Vice President Pence, do you believe that climate change poses an existential threat?
Page could have done three things here: moved on, asked Harris to elaborate on her claim, or tried to force Pence to respond as if Harris’ claim is factual on its face. Page chose the third option.
13. I’d like to talk about China. We have, as our next topic, we have no more complicated or consequential foreign relationship than the one with China. It is a huge market for American agricultural goods. It’s a potential partner in dealing with climate change and North Korea. And in a video tonight, President Trump again blamed it for the coronavirus, saying “China will pay.” Vice President Pence, how would you describe our, our fundamental relationship with China? Competitors? Adversaries? Enemies? You have two minutes.
Note the dig buried in the set-up: Trump blames China for the coronavirus (as though that’s somehow unfair of him). Page failed to note that China covered up the virus during the early crucial days, after the virus did in fact originate in China. Page also never notes China’s duplicitous role with regard to North Korea, or its hostile actions against Hong Kong and Taiwan. Her set-up avoids all mention of China’s rogue actions, its slave labor, and concentration camps, just to put Pence on the spot.
14. Senator Harris, I’m going to ask you the same question that I asked the Vice President. How would you describe our fundamental relationship with China? Are we competitors, adversaries, enemies? You’ll have two minutes, uninterrupted.
Again, nothing about China’s actions or Biden’s son’s lucrative deals with the communist government. Harris is never required to defend the Democrats’ China record at all.
15. Senator Harris, we’ve seen changes in the role of the United States, in terms of global leadership, over the past four years – and of course times do change. What’s your definition – we’ve seen strains with China, of course, as the Vice President mentioned, we’ve seen strains with our traditional allies in NATO and elsewhere. What is your definition of the role of American leadership in 2020?
This may be the most biased question of the entire debate. President Trump has just finalized historic peace deals between Israel and some of the Arab Gulf States. He inked a deal between Serbia and Kosovo. Page neglects to mention any of that, focusing on her negative view of the Trump foreign policy record. It’s a shameful question, and it’s shameful that the Abraham Accords never came up during the debate at all. Page also directs the question at Harris, who takes the opportunity to trash the Trump record. So between the moderator’s question and Harris’ reply, that’s about three minutes straight attacking the Trump record without ever mentioning the historic peace deals.
16. On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to open hearings on Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Senator Harris, you’ll be there as a member of the committee. A confirmation would cement the court’s conservative majority, and make it likely open to more abortion restrictions, even to overturning the landmark Roe v Wade ruling. Access to abortion would then be up to the states. Vice President Pence, you’re the former governor of Indiana. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, what would you want Indiana to do? Would you want your home state to ban all abortions? You have two minutes, uninterrupted.
Page could have gone in a couple of directions here. She could have done what she did, put Pence on the defensive, or she could have noted that, say, New York has passed extreme pro-abortion laws under Democrats. Page again chose to put Pence on the defensive and create an offensive opportunity for Harris in her response.
17. Senator Harris, you’re the senator from and former Attorney General of California. So let me ask you a parallel question to the one I posed to the vice president. If Roe v Wade is overturned, what would you want California to do? Would you want your home state to enact no restrictions on access to abortion? And you have two minutes, uninterrupted.
This is actually a fair question. It’s the second of the debate, and it comes at the one-hour mark.
18. You know, you mentioned earlier, Vice President Pence, that the President was committed to maintaining protections for people with pre-existing conditions and — but you do have this court case that you are supporting, your administration is supporting, that would strike down the Affordable Care Act. The president says, President Trump says, that he’s going to protect people with pre-existing conditions, but he has not explained how he will do that. So, tell us, specifically – how will your administration protect Americans with pre-existing conditions and give access to affordable insurance if the Affordable Care Act is struck down.
Page is improvising again, to put Pence on the defensive. Read the questions above. This her second improvised question. Both have been designed to put Pence on the defensive and assume Democrat political statements as facts.
19. In March, Breonna Taylor a 26-year-old emergency room technician in Louisville, was shot and killed after police officers executing a search warrant on a narcotics investigation broke into her apartment. The police said they identified themselves. Taylor’s boyfriend said he didn’t hear them do that. He used a gun registered to him to fire a shot, which wounded an officer. The officers then fired more than 20 rounds into the apartment. They say they were acting in self defense. None of them have been indicted in connection with her death. Senator Harris, in the case of Breonna Taylor, was justice done? You have two minutes.
This is a highly disputed local incident. Page never mentions several relevant facts, such as that Taylor’s name was also on the warrant and that the boyfriend is an accused drug dealer. The entire set-up makes the police look bad, and anyone who defends them will look bad too, to anti-police Democrats. It’s practically designed to create a pro-Harris ad to appeal to the far-left anti-police Democrat base. Page never mentions the riots, Harris’ role in bailing violent rioters and criminals out of jail, any of these relevant facts. It’s a softball set-up.
20. Vice President Pence, let me pose the same question to you. In the case of Breonna Taylor, was justice done? You have two minutes, uninterrupted.
Same objections as above but reversed. Page has allowed Harris to dodge the Democrats’ riot record, but now puts Pence on the spot in a case over which he has no control. Why this spin, and not, say, asking the candidates whether they believe defunding police departments is wise or not? The answer is obvious.
21. President Trump has, several times, refused to commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power after the election. If your ticket wins and President Trump refuses to accept a peaceful transfer of power, what steps would you and Vice President Biden then take? What would happen next? You have two minutes.
The bias in this question is unacceptable. The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, has publicly advised Biden not to concede “in any circumstances.” The Democrats have pushed mail-in voting, even after the USPS union endorsed Biden. Page mentions none of this and, instead, distorts Trump’s words.
By my count, Page asked two fair questions and 19 left-leaning questions. This ratio is about what we might expect from a media that is made up of 93% Democrats.
Joe Biden, former senator and vice president, had his 47-year record of acts and statements while in public office go completely unexamined.
The moderator of the second presidential debate, should it happen, is Steve Scully. Most political watchers know him as the unflappable moderator on CSPAN.
But Scully was an intern in Joe Biden’s Senate office and he worked for Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy — the man the liberal media hailed as the liberal “lion of the Senate.”
Seriously, GOP? Why not just allow the chair of the Democratic National Committee to moderate the next debate?
The RNC has to do better and demand balance. There is no reason Democrats should get two spots on debate stages — one for their candidate, and another for a media moderator who will deliver air support for their candidate.