Tonight’s debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris promises to be as boring as hell. Neither candidate is prone to shouting, insulting, or rude behavior. More than that, they are likely to actually discuss issues, which should act as a nice soporific for those of us who usually go to bed early.
As staid and controlled as both candidates will try to be, keeping track of Harris’s exaggerations and outright lies will be a chore. Should Pence ignore them and concentrate on making the case for Trump? That’s one possible strategy that would probably produce of few zingers from Pence.
The biggest problem is that both candidates exist in different universes — as do most of their core supporters. Talking past each other is going to be inevitable.
Pence’s biggest disadvantage is that he can’t go after Harris with the same gusto he lit into Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential candidate, Tim Kaine — for obvious reasons.
Pence had no problem counter-punching in a civil and substantive way four years ago against Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate. But he was doing so against a fellow late-50s male known more for his congeniality on Capitol Hill than his sharp-tongued barbs. Some political observers labeled the tete-a-tete milquetoast vs. mayonnaise, but it was a traditional verbal back-and-forth over policy differences, and most cited Pence as the victor.
Taking the fight to Harris will be a far more delicate balancing act. As the first woman of color on a presidential ticket and after months of violent racial unrest across the country, Pence must be careful not to lecture about race relations or try to drive home the president’s forceful law-and-order campaign message to a prosecutor who has faced criticism herself for taking the law too far and locking up too many people for lesser crimes.
Pence shouldn’t exactly walk on eggshells, but the notion he shouldn’t bring up the riots is wrongheaded. The unrest matters to too many people and pointing out the obvious — that the riots were not a reaction against racism as much as a bunch of anarchists and criminals taking advantage of lax law enforcement to burn cities. People care a lot more about Trump protecting people and property than about “peaceful” protests against racism and injustice.
But Pence isn’t the only one who might be put on the defensive.
The Trump campaign says Harris will spend plenty of time on defense after her inclusion on the ticket helped push Biden to the far left on several issues. “She’ll have to defend Biden’s $4 trillion tax increase, support of the Green New Deal and promise of amnesty for 11 million illegal aliens,” Trump 2020 Communications Director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement.
She also remains a co-sponsor of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” bill, which would eliminate private employer-provided health insurance plans for an estimated 180 million Americans. By the end of the Democratic primary, Harris said she no longer supported Sanders plan, and her late shift on the issue exposed her as a candidate torn between appealing to liberals demanding structural change and centrists favoring incrementalism.
Biden, too, is caught between radicals pushing a far-left agenda and his absolute need to appear to be “moderate.” Harris points to her time as attorney general to buttress her law-and-order bonafides. Indeed, she was thought to be a tough, no-nonsense attorney general — back in the day. Harris left the AG’s office to run for the Senate in 2017. It was an entirely different world then. And her radicalization since becoming a senator has become obvious. She started out supporting Medicare for All, but when Biden had her under consideration for VP, she did a 180-degree turn and said she wouldn’t support it.
Perhaps it’s the subtext of this debate that is most significant of all. Trump is 74 and Biden is 77. The ages of the presidential candidates raise obvious questions about succession. Biden, especially, is prone to those questions given that he may live out his term but become mentally incompetent. Trump has COVID and it’s not known if he will make a full recovery. In that sense, the stakes are higher in this debate than any other in history.
It won’t make the debate any less interesting, that’s for sure.
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