Key takeaways from the vice presidential debate
Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris took the stage on Tuesday Oct. 7 for the first and only vice presidential debate, returning to a traditional, more civilized style of politics than what was seen during the first presidential debate the week prior.
The two contenders were relatively polite focusing primarily on policy differences, though leaving room for “elbow-shoving” on topics like race, climate change and, of course, the coronavirus.
Here are four key takeaways from the vice presidential debate:
1. Coronavirus pandemic response
Both Pence and Harris took opposite sides of the field when asked about the coronavirus pandemic. Harris assumed the offensive to exploit the Trump administration’s shortcomings with containment that has led to over 210,000 American deaths thus far.
Harris accused President Donald Trump and Pence of deliberately deceiving the public about the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic while Trump simultaneously minimized the threat down to a “hoax” dramatized by the Democratic Party.
“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” Harris said.
Harris frequently used words like “incompetence” and “ineptitude” throughout the night when speaking about Trump’s efficacy in handling the pandemic.
As leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Harris’s less-than-positive review of the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response touched a nerve with Pence, prompting him to use “the American people” as a shield to redirect Harris’s blow. However, her comments were exclusively addressing the Trump administration’s failures, not the American people.
“When you say what the American people have done over these last eight months hasn’t worked, that's a great disservice to the sacrifices the American people have made,” Pence said.
Pence argued that Trump’s early precautions, such as the travel restrictions in February, prevented millions of potential casualties, attempting to further prove the Trump administration has prioritized public health since its landfall on American soil. Pence’s argument, however, was diluted by his initial objections to accommodate Harris’s request for plexiglass barriers between them, following transmission concerns after Trump and some of his top aides tested positive for COVID-19.
The conversation segued to vaccines when debate moderator Susan Page asked Harris about her previous comments stating she would not take a COVID-19 vaccine under the Trump administration.
“If the health professionals, if Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it,” Harris said. “But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.”
Pence accused Harris of subsequently undermining confidence in a vaccine to a degree that is “unconscionable.”
Keeping with the theme of undermining public confidence, Pence took the opportunity to suggest the Biden-Harris Democratic ticket “plagiarised” the Trump administration’s coronavirus action plan.
“When you look at the Biden plan, it reads an awful lot like what President Trump and I and our task force have been doing every step of the way,” Pence said.
The GOP’s and the Democratic ticket’s involvement in the coronavirus response remained talking points throughout the evening.
2. Striking a chord with women
“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”
These five words resonated with women everywhere each of the 10 times Harris said them while Pence interrupted her. Harris’s need to remind her counterpart not to interrupt her (and being scoffed at while doing so) perfectly encapsulates the female experience in most professional settings.
Empathizers of Harris’s frustration took to Twitter to confirm that she was speaking on behalf of all women. Female support poured in, agreeing with the ridiculousness of accepting the consequences of the notion that “the middle of a woman's sentence interrupts the beginning of a man’s.”
Harris’s persistence in rebuking Pence’s interruptions and demanding time equality for each of those interruptions painted a contrasting image from that of former Vice President Biden during the presidential debates, who was interrupted by Trump 73 times. Biden’s unrelenting frustration that manifested into yelling “Will you shut up?” at his opponent compared to Harris’s composure directly challenges the stereotype surrounding women in office: That they’re too emotional to lead.
3. Disagreement on racial justice
The debate’s race segment revealed both candidates’ differences in policy and ideology. It started with questioning whether justice was served for Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was fatally shot by Louisville police while she was asleep in her home. Only one of the three officers involved, Brett Hankison, was charged with wanton endangerment for bullets that entered a neighbor’s apartment. No one was charged for Taylor’s death.
When the moderator asked Harris whether she believed Taylor received justice, her immediate answer was “no."
“I am a former career prosecutor. I know what I’m talking about,” Harris said. “We need reform of our policing in America and in our criminal justice system.”
Pence had a different answer.
“The family of Breonna Taylor has our sympathies,” he said. “But I trust our justice system.”
He diverted the focus to the looting and riots surrounding the death of George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis who was killed after former police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes straight.
Pence went on to denounce the question of systemic racism and the accusation that officers have implicit biases that lead to such unjustified killings, regarding these suggestions as “great insults” to law enforcement.
His comments come after Trump failed to denounce white supremacists during the presidential debate, telling Proud Boys, a far-right organization, to “stand back and stand by” instead of “stand down.”
Both Trump and Pence’s reluctance to acknowledge racial inequities in the justice system and denounce the existence of systemic racism suggests a coordinated attempt for the GOP to avoid upsetting sectors of their voting bloc as they continue to trail behind Biden in the polls as Election Day approaches.
Whether Trump chooses to admit his ties to white supremacy or not, law enforcement officials, neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations across the nation do, in fact, compose a voting bloc for this administration.
If the administration is determined to maintain a foothold in this race for presidency, that requires not alienating any supporters, and that's exactly what Trump and Pence are evidently trying to avoid.
4. The buzz about the fly
The most talked-about moment of the night was when a fly landed on Pence’s head … and stayed there for nearly two minutes.
Ironically, the black bug rested on the vice president’s white hair while he denied the existence of systemic racism in America.
During the 2016 Presidential Debate, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton also had a fly land on her forehead. Superstitious viewers are now suggesting that the fly serves as a “groundhog” for signaling presidential election losers.
We’ll have to wait and see if that prediction holds true. The next presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 22.
By Haley Hartner