Who Won the Vice Presidential Debate (and Will It Make a Difference)?

AP Photo/Julio Cortez
AP featured image
The stage is set with glass between seats ahead of the vice presidential debate at the University of Utah, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., will participate in the debate Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)


Gang, I have some news. We just watched a debate that actually discussed policy and political ideas. It wasn’t two geriatrics devolving into silly, schoolyard squabbles. I spent most of the evening learning things about the candidates and feeling reactions to their ideas. It was scary, confusing, and yet somewhat comforting.

And the worst part about it is that the American people don’t get to choose between either of these candidates, when it comes time to vote. The debate was actually good, and even if both candidates spent most of their time filibustering the questions, they did so in a calm and collected way. But, what we watched was a presidential debate that, unfortunately, was had between two vice presidential candidates — and it, ultimately, won’t mean much.

I think Kamala Harris overperformed expectations. It was hard to tell coming in whether Harris would be the aggressive prosecutor bordering on the level of aggression she displayed in the primaries, or the muted vice presidential candidate who has laid low in the campaign since being named Joe Biden’s running mate. She walked a very tight line here, and I think did so very well. I do appreciate that, while she did come across as a little too smug in some interactions for my taste, she was calm but crafty enough to try to get a rise out of Mike Pence without being obvious about it.


However, Pence came in expected to be a better debater, and I think he met those expectations. He stayed calm, did not rise to meet some of the bait Harris was throwing, and did a good job of being the “voice of reason” for the Trump campaign. His ability to stay on-message and drive points home is something that Trump fans should want to see more of in the coming weeks, preferably from Trump but, if not, from a more visible Pence.

Also, I have to give credit to Susan Page. She did a good job of moderating, handled both candidates well, and was firm yet not tyrannical in enforcing time.

Overall, all three were disciplined in their performances. It was a good debate. But, I think that Pence’s ability to control the tone and tenor of the debate is what gave him the edge throughout the night.

The problem is that there was no viral moment of debate carnage that really makes this debate stand out. Like almost every other vice presidential debate in history, no one will really remember this tomorrow… unless they’re talking about the fly that was perched on Pence’s head for a solid two minutes. It was the kind of debate I wish we could see on the presidential level, and it just makes me sad we won’t.


A friend tweeted that he had never been so happy to be so bored, which is, I think, the best summary of the night. It was boring, but in a good way. That 90 minutes went by fast, and I could’ve watched another hour. But, it won’t affect the polls, and it won’t mean much.



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