Two faces of America: the VP debate

Listening mostly on radio, I thought Mike Pence won the debate by a fair margin, if what he said was true. However, he sounded as though he was stretching the truth, again by a fair margin. His problem was that he had to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or defend the indefensible. This can stretch his credibility, which to me it did.

However, what I think does not matter to the election outcome.

Do VP debates matter? The conventional wisdom is that on balance they mostly don’t by election day.

Except this debate did matter as an opportunity to stop the drift against Trump. Pence needed a knockout. He did not get it, so he failed.

David Brooks is a syndicated conservative commentator, who I read in the AFR and found at the Seattle Times. Brooks tells us that the election campaign has largely shrunk from grand ideological issues to two practical problems: how to get rid of Trump and how to beat COVID-19. He says Biden and Harris have run a professional campaign. They have:

    ruthlessly and effectively focused their campaign on the Exhausted Majority — people who are disgusted by and semidetached from politics in working-class homes in the Midwest, in retirement communities in Florida, in suburban cul-de-sacs everywhere.

    Harris’ debate performance was the perfect implementation of the strategy and the perfect illustration of why it is succeeding. A lot of the conversation about who “won” the debate misses the crucial question of who effectively implemented their campaign’s strategy. Harris did. The Republicans don’t have a strategy, so Mike Pence’s performance was beside the point.

FiveThirtyEight teamed with Ipsos to answer the question Who Won The Vice Presidential Debate?

    The verdict: While the debate didn’t really change how people are planning to vote, Harris did improve her favorability ratings.

Matt at WTF Just Happened Today drew attention to Susan Page, the moderator, and Pence’s practice of interrupting and stealing time:


    Pence repeatedly interrupted Sen. Kamala Harris, ignored the moderator, went over time, and refused to directly answer the questions asked during the vice presidential debate. “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking … I’m speaking,” Harris repeatedly had to say when Pence interrupted her. And, about an hour into the debate, moderator Susan Page noted that Pence had spoken more than Harris while trying to stop Pence from taking more time than allotted.

At FiveThirtyEight they said Pence interrupted 16 times to Harris’s nine. However, Pence was more often successful in his interruptions. was given more time in the first place by Page, often refusing Harris a right of reply to a blatant attack, but offering Pence a right of reply when attacked. Pence was rude and disrespectful, basically a bully. I imagine women would have been especially unimpressed.

Matt at WTF has some good links, including Ryan Lizza at Politico in The VP debate offers the nation a glimpse of a post-Trump future
Fact check: Pence echoes Trump’s false claims at vice presidential debate and David Smith at The Guardian in Looks speak louder than words as Harris makes quotable case against Pence. Smith sees Pence and Harris as contrasting types:

    It was always going to be about the two faces of America.

    One: white, male, midwestern, evangelical Christian. The other: Black, female, coastal, progressive.

Then there was Kamala Harris’s ability to weaponise facial expressions with raised eyebrows, pursed lips and withering stares. She was trying to look presidential rather than simply attack:

That didn’t happen by accident.

By contrast:


    It was hardly a surprise that Pence reeked of white male privilege; it was less anticipated that the target was the moderator, Susan Page of USA Today, as much as Harris. Showing no respect for her questions, rules or timekeeping, he just kept talking and often called her “Susan”.

    Struggling to gain control, she pleaded: “I did not create the rules for tonight … I’m here to enforce them.”

    So with that, Republicans may have lost more suburban women voters, if that is even possible. But the bottom line is that this VP debate won’t change the race.

Here’s graph showing the gender gap:

My view is that how people come across on TV is more important than what they say in the game of political persuasion, a reason why we don’t have Bill Shorten as PM and probably won’t have Anthony Albanese.

Nevertheless truth and facts matter. Here is a fact-check from ABC News and The Associated Press:

Kamala Harris did not get everything right, but Pence’s performance looks like deliberate wholesale distortion of the truth.

Here is grist on Fact-checking Mike Pence’s half-truths about climate change. What Pence said was sad for the United States and for the world.

However, Mark Kaufman at Mashable says VP debate shows we’re stuck in first grade on climate change. Journalists should not be asking politicians whether they believe in the science of climate change.

Prof Katharine Hayhoe:

    For the gazillionth time:

      Climate change is not a religion. It is a science.

      Do I believe in it? No.

      I look at the data, and the data is clear: it’s real, it’s us, it’s bad, and the time to fix it is NOW.

Journalists should be holding politicians to account. In our patch at least The Guardian educates all its journalists on the climate change and the ABC has stopped giving equal time to climate nutters. In Uncle Rupert’s den the Oz still pumps out disinformation, while son James has given up trying to from within:

    James Murdoch says he quit his father’s media empire because it was ‘legitimizing disinformation’ and slams ‘crazy’ Trump for ‘infecting the US with cruelty’ and downplaying COVID.

He said “he couldn’t change the company from the inside and so no longer wanted to be associated with it.” He blamed the president for ‘infecting the population’ with ‘cruelty’ saying ‘it’s no coincidence the number of hate crimes in this country are rising’ and threw his support behind Joe Biden saying ‘hell yes’ when asked if he will be voting for the Democratic candidate in November’s election.

For discussion on the VP debate on a previous thread, I think it starts here.

18 thoughts on “Two faces of America: the VP debate”

  1. This election is unusual in that, given the health and age of both presidential candidates, there is a much higher chance than usual that whoever is elected VP will become president some time during the next 4 yrs. This makes the VP debate more important than usual in that assessment of a VP candidates potential as president may have more influence than usual on decisions re who to vote for as president.
    However, from a VP candidate point of view, they still have to get their presidential candidate elected to get the chance of becoming president during the next term.
    In that context I think Pence may have changed some women voter’s minds as a result of his stealing time and talking over the woman candidate and moderator. Doubt that he would have picked up males voters because of this behaviour.
    Harris may have picked up support because she didn’t let Pence’s behaviour lose her cool or line of argument.
    My take is the VP vote probably made little difference despite the unusual circumstances of this election.

  2. Yes, John.

    A system different from our PM contests.
    (Howard loses, Costello doesn’t automatically take the leadership; etc.)

    In the US the VP becomes P upon the death of the P.
    Doesn’t need swearing in.

    LBJ requested his swearing-in on a hot afternoon in a cramped cabin on Air Force One; but formally he was already P as JFK had died.

    If a P candidate dies before Election Day, the Party convenes a committee to choose a replacement candidate. It doesn’t have to be the (former) VP nominee.

    Both VP candidates did what they needed to do: stayed relatively calm, projected assurance, supported their own P candidates. Ducked tricky questions; both seemed prepared and unruffled.

    (In that other lexicon, they were “weak, loser, swamp-dwelling, oh so terrible – would never have made it on prime-time TV, not wealthy enough, have you seen their….. just terrible; so sad for our country…. let’s just say I wouldn’t be playing golf with them, OK?”)

  3. Ambi: “let’s just say I wouldn’t be playing golf with them, OK?” The inventors of golf have a lot to answer for. My mother took up golf in her dotage so I have always seen it as a game for the elderly.
    Given that I am in denial re growing old I doubt that I will ever take up playing the game.

  4. I suspect the bottom line is that the debate continued the drift away from Trump, so in that sense it did matter.

    However, the Democrats really need a clean win on the night, as the main Trump strategy appears to be to destroy the proper functioning and legitimacy of the electoral process.

    In that sense, the debate did not help all that much.

  5. Good news that James Murdoch has real integrity.
    Good news also that Rudd will, though at this eleventh and a half hour of his political life, attempt to make a stand against media Dominance . You have got to wonder what was in the minds (or pockets) of the people who allowed it to happen.

    I think the vice presidential debate can only be important for letting people see the candidates perform at some level. I couldn’t watch as I have a very low tolerance level for arrogance and bare faced lying, Pence’s only talents.

  6. Thanks zoot,

    Fairly small effects in those poll results, but marginally in favour of Ms Harris.

    (The P seems to be running out of time….)

  7. zoot, I checked my post, and this is what I said:

    FiveThirtyEight teamed with Ipsos to answer the question Who Won The Vice Presidential Debate?

      The verdict: While the debate didn’t really change how people are planning to vote, Harris did improve her favorability ratings.

    No problems! I was just checking that I did what I thought I did.

  8. For a long time I peculiar desire to make a mobile to hang in the toilet which had a cluster of model blowflies. Never did it, and hadn’t thought of it for years till seeing images of Pence in the debate.

  9. I’m just the Apprentice. My Master painted Angels, I highlight Demons, and the creature they bring forth, cockroaches and flies. Remember the guy who called JWH a “miserable moral cockroach”, followed with Paul McDermot’s observation that as you know “if there is one of him running around then there are a hundred more like him hiding behind the refrigerator”. It seems though that Pence the demon brings forth flies.

  10. The historian Vasari (an early ‘art historian’):

    …… tells of one occasion when Cimabue was absent from the workshop, and Giotto painted a remarkably lifelike fly on a face in a painting of Cimabue. When Cimabue returned, he tried several times to brush the fly off.

    – from The Chronicles of Wikipedia, shown to this apprentice by a Magic Lantern of some kind…..

  11. You just cannot make this stuff up

    “I feel so powerful.
    I’ll walk right in there.
    I’ll kiss all the guys, I’ll liss all the beautifil women. ”
    (C) 2020 The P

    Damp dream as campaign speech.

    Crikey Golly Gosh.

  12. The financial markets are confident that Trump can’t steal the election, in spite of the Republicans’ dirty tricks in California (fake ballot collection boxes) and Texas (restricting the number of ballot collection boxes to 1 per county).
    I wish I were that sanguine.

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