Three takeaways from the vice presidential debate

Americans were ultimately reminded that Harris is a porous debater and a demagogue, who’s easy to knock off message. 

C-Span screenshot

Wednesday afternoon, just hours before the vice presidential debate, a New York Times “full guide” reminded us we are not allowed to criticize Sen. Kamala Harris or we are sexist and probably racist, too.

This was predictable cowardice, as none of the critiques of Harris I’ve personally made this year focused on skin color or gender. Nor have most others.

As Washington Post’s Megan McArdle explained, Harris’ gender did not “force her to leave points on the table. She left them on the table because she couldn’t think of a good response quick enough. Stop grading us on a curve.”

Since Susan Page didn’t use most of my pertinent suggestions, let’s check three overarching themes:

  1. Both candidates were evasive — but Harris more so, especially on late-term abortion and court packing. The latter is worse than a conventional dodge, since consistent prevarication gives away the game and exposes that she knows it’s a deeply unpopular policy.
  2. While Wednesday night was undeniably more issue-oriented than last week, Harris came across poorly to uncommitted voters; any intellectually honest observer saw the condescending smirks and also realized she reverted to talking points far more often than Pence.
  3. It was nice to hear some foreign policy chatter, albeit briefly. Harris clearly wasn’t expecting this and her naiveté was apparent. She avoided anything substantive on Iran or Islamic terrorism, and when pressed on rogue China, mostly pivoted to doom and gloom rhetoric on COVID, where she was appalling on vaccines.

Harris tellingly also would not take ownership of the (unpopular) Green New Deal, a radical plan she co-sponsored and supported in the primaries.

With pressure from a rough week, Vice President Mike Pence fired on all cylinders. He especially dominated on national security, the economy and energy. He was prepared and steady, as expected. He rightly pinpointed the senator’s inconsistent policies.

Americans were ultimately reminded that Harris is a porous debater and a demagogue, who’s easy to knock off message.

Lastly, while Susan Page had more control than Chris Wallace, two of her topics weren’t necessary.

Climate change is not an issue Americans care about.

And what does Breonna Taylor have to do with the president? (I’m glad Pence instead pivoted to urban riots that destroyed minority-owned businesses here in Minnesota.)

Did the debate move the needle? Nobody knows yet.

We do know that four years ago today, the infamous Access Hollywood tape came out. It supposedly spelled doom for the Trump/Pence ticket, but Trump rebounded in a St. Louis debate, and we know the story. With only 26 days until Election Day, Beltway blue checks say it’s over, but most rank-and-file liberals I know are concerned about a redux.

Indeed Biden is ahead nationally by numbers Hillary Clinton never attained — and the electoral map is also bad for Trump — but without yelling “polls are wrong,” there are ancillary factors and other matters to consider before any coronations.