It was nice to have a debate where the two rivals could complete sentences. Some of those sentences managed to communicate complete thoughts.
Beyond this reassurance that two members of America’s political class are capable of tenth-grade level interaction, I don’t think the debate mattered to the election in any serious way.
Kamala Harris was strongest at the start because the topic was the COVID-19 pandemic. Pence tried to avoid talking about the administration’s poor comparative performance with peer nations, and instead tried to honor the sacrifices Americans had made. He probably tried this tactic one too many times, spoiling the effect and looking evasive.
Kamala Harris again said her line about not taking a vaccine if it’s only endorsed by Trump. I’ve written about how this is misleading about how the vaccines are being developed. Pence rightfully hit back. There is no way for Trump to produce a rogue vaccine.
However, overall Mike Pence turned in a very competent performance. I don’t find Pence an inspiring orator. I don’t think he’s all that politically canny or courageous. He’s not one for bold ideas. What he has is a character high in conscientiousness and low in neuroticism. Maybe some will find him a little low energy. But he comes across as unflappable. To a seasoned eye, it’s obvious that he studied his briefing books hard ahead of the debate and diligently rehearsed the important lines and questions.
He highlighted every area where Democrats are unpopular, tax raises, court-packing, and so on. He avoided talking about issues where Republican positions are less popular. Maybe Harris’ awkward evasion on court-packing puts more pressure on Joe Biden to answer. Personally, I don’t think Democrats will have the votes in the Senate to start packing the Court. But they don’t want to alienate progressive voters and progressive media on Twitter by saying it won’t happen.
For me, the most satisfying part of the debate was when Pence took a page from Tulsi Gabbard. After Harris talked about Trump’s comments Charlottesville, Pence noted the shocking racial disparities she produced as a prosecutor in California.
Did the performance help Mike Pence in the future as a potential successor to Donald Trump? I doubt it.