Pence and Harris offer little excitement in Vice-Presidential debate

Sam Slater covers the Vice Presidential debate for the 2020 US elections.

Sam Slater
9th October 2020

The Vice-Presidential debate is normally a dull affair. The 2020 edition was no different.

The most significant aspect of the Vice-President’s job is the possibility they may, in the event of resignation or illness, have to assume the office of the President, something that has not happened since Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

It is because of this key part of the Vice-President’s role, and the fact that both Presidential candidates are well into their 70s during a global pandemic, that this debate was viewed by many to be a crucial part of this American election.

The debate itself, moderated by Susan Page of USA Today, was very much a laid-back affair compared to the remarkable entertainment of the chaotic first Presidential debate. Despite this, Page occasionally showed glimmers of following in Chris Wallace’s footsteps with a failure to keep either candidate to time.

The two candidates, seated and separated by glass screens, could almost be described as being – in the most part – polite to one another. Both Vice-President Pence and Senator Harris were tasked with reiterating and clearing up any confusion surrounding their ticket’s pledges and policies in the topic areas chosen by Page.

Both candidates seemed content to play it safe

Key clashes took place over familiar battlegrounds including climate, the economy, and health. Both candidates seemed content to play it safe by repeating the campaign policies with no willingness to go into detail, possibly trying to avoid any strong rebuttal from the opponent or make any accidental commitments.

The discussion over the Supreme Court stood out as a clear example of this. Pence refused to outline what might happen if Roe v Wade were to be overturned, as many predict it will be if President Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett is indeed appointed. Harris refused, as Biden did last week, to answer claims that the Democrats would try and ‘pack’ the Court in the event of Barrett’s appointment in an attempt to redress the political balance.

The elephant in the room which made this debate unusually important was firmly overlooked. No matter who wins in November, both nominees will become Vice-President to the oldest President in history, and thus the prospect of either candidate becoming President before 2024 is very much a real one.

Viewers none the wiser on what a Pence or Harris Presidency might look like

The only useful information that could have been gained from the evening was quickly skated over, with viewers none the wiser on what a Pence or Harris Presidency might look like. There is, after all, a decent possibility that this match-up might be repeated in the 2024 Presidential debate regardless if Trump or Biden can stay fit enough for office over the next four years.

Other key highlights included the moment a fly landed on Vice President Pence’s head (you can almost feel the SNL writers' joy from here), Pence sending the New York Times fact checker into overdrive, and a closing question written by an 8-year-old from a local Elementary School requesting that politicians set a better example.

Overall, the contest was very much a tie, as if the candidates were willing to offer their more reserved manner as a counterbalance to the explosive displays between Trump and Biden. It was not a particularly entertaining contest, as election debates traditionally always were. Ever since the first televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960 they have become a key part in the popularity contest of elections, with very little to offer the undecided voter.

With one of the most pointless events of the US election campaign over and with almost 4 million votes already cast, the clock counts down to November 3rd.

Featured Image: Gage Skidmore on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons.

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