Who Won the Vice-Presidential Debate?

Who Won the Vice-Presidential Debate? Analysis ...

Opinion asked contributors for their takes on how Mike Pence and Kamala Harris did at the vice presidential debate. The views expressed in these commentaries are their own.

Who Won the Vice-Presidential Debate?

Sarah Isgur: There was a fly on Pence's head

Ah, it was nice to be back in 2012...if only for a night. The vice presidential debate was substantive on issues ranging from China to fracking to tax policy. It was unquestionably a face-off between two polished, long serving politicians trading barbs in the cadence of Washington. And it was boring. Perhaps we've forgotten how lovely boring could really be.

Sen. Kamala Harris came in on sky-high expectations but had a much tougher needle to thread. She and former Vice President Joe Biden are leading in the polls, so her campaign didn't need or want to change the trajectory of the race. Her deliberative tone was important. But there would be no upside at this point, for the Biden campaign to have her get into the weeds on policies—whether they support limits on abortion or whether they would add seats to the Supreme Court—that could only turn off uncommitted voters. She avoided these.

Vice President Mike Pence, as the underdog, had no such downside and tried to move the needle by focusing on the details.

Did it matter? Nope. Has the race changed as of tonight because Pence kept talking over his time and Harris wouldn't answer whether she supported adding justices to the Supreme Court? Definitely not. Because this isn't 2012. And all anyone will care about from tonight is the fly on Pence's head.

Sarah Isgur is a CNN political analyst. She is a staff writer at The Dispatch and an adjunct professor at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. She previously worked on three Republican presidential campaigns and graduated from Harvard Law School.

Julian Zelizer: Democrats, be more direct about threat posed by Trump

There is a fundamental asymmetry between Democrats and Republicans: As Trump's former advisor Steve Bannon once said, Republicans go for the head wound, Democrats for the pillow fight.

Tonight, this was on display. Given her immense skill as an orator and in debating, Harris was incredibly restrained -- even sticking to her time when Pence kept going over. Facing the Vice President of an administration whose record can only be compared to James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover, and Richard Nixon, the Senator still didn't go for the jugular. The two candidates were literally separated by plexiglass barriers because Pence might be one of the people who has caught Covid-19 in the reckless policies within the White House—a symbol for their entire response to the pandemic.

There are so many moments in this debate - -and in general conversations about the campaign -- where the basic unreality of the moment is something left unsaid. Sometimes it seems that the handful of disaffected Republicans in the Lincoln Project are more willing to just say the obvious.

In the end, the limitations of tonight's debate might not matter. Harris is a skilled debater and conveyed the key points. It is easy to imagine her being president one day. She is also working with a candidate, Joe Biden, who enjoys a much stronger standing in the polls. As long as she is not making mistakes, then, right now, she is winning. The goal of a vice presidential debate is do no harm. She didn't do any harm.

But still, there is so much more that Democrats can say about everything that has happened since 2017. This isn't a debate about differences in policy — it's a debate about what the state of our nation and democracy will be in decades to come. Our health, our politics, our economy, our public life is sick. It's time for Democrats to be more direct about the threats that the nation faces under a Trump presidency.

Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and author of the book, "Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party." Follow him on Twitter @julianzelizer.

Frida Ghitis: Pence releases his inner Trump

California Sen. Kamala Harris easily won the debate, as Vice President Mike Pence showed an unexpectedly rude side of his personality. Pence came across as Donald Trump-light, telling falsehoods, interrupting others and ignoring the rules, almost as much as the boss he praised with his usual unctuousness. But because (unlike his boss) he can put together complete sentences, Pence was able to pack in more whoppers per second than Trump did in last week's deranged presidential debate.

Pence spoke over the two women in front of him, condescendingly ignoring moderator Susan Page's repeated entreaties to stop talking when his time was up, and frequently interrupting his rival, who tried to keep her cool, as women often feel they must, saying "I'd like equal time."

Harris won because she had so much more material to work with. All she had to do was cite the facts about the Trump administration's catastrophic handling of the coronavirus. Incidentally, the failures were evident in Pence's very presence there, when he should have been in quarantine, according to the US Centers for Disease Control's guidelines.

Harris pointed to Trump's failuress in paying his taxes, his efforts to get rid of Obamacare in the midst of a pandemic, the dismal state of the economy, Trump's reluctance to clearly condemn white supremacists, and on and on. Pence responded with the familiar lies and evasions we have been hearing from Trump for months, including a few new doozies.

It was hard to contain a laugh when he claimed Trump has been very good on the environment and is listening to the scientists, when he said Trump has always told the truth and when he repeatedly misrepresented Biden's foreign policy record.

Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to the Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. Follow her on Twitter @fridaghitis.

Scott Jennings: Is Harris any good at this?

Debate moderator Susan Page was fabulous, even though it's already clear she will be assailed by the left to explain Sen. Kamala Harris's failure. Pro tip for the left: complaining about the moderator means you lost.

Kamala Harris flopped in epic fashion tonight, while Vice President Mike Pence followed in the footsteps of Joe Biden (2012) and Dick Cheney (2004), former vice presidents for incumbents presidents who had tanked in their opening debate, and then saw their number two's step up and right the ship.

Pence conducted a masterclass in how to prepare for and execute a clear, winning debate strategy. He sliced and diced his way through taxes, fracking, the Green New Deal, and which ticket is best to handle America's future recovery, winning every exchange on those topics. Pence did what Trump failed to do in his debate against Biden—recognize his opponent's mistakes and then clearly drive home the winning point. The exchange over packing the Supreme Court was an epic failure by Harris (and Biden last week), and Pence played it perfectly. Pence flawlessly weaved in people and stories he brought along to Salt Lake City to score several points.

Harris's record, combined with a relative lack of experience and success at this level on the national stage was a real problem for the Democratic ticket tonight. Biden clearly wants to run a moderate campaign, but he picked a running mate who has said she would repeal Trump tax cuts, was a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, had said she would ban fracking, and voted against the USMCA trade deal (even though it had wide bipartisan support).

Biden was so eager to check identity politics boxes in picking Harris that he never stopped to ask: Is she any good at this, and does her record match my desires?

Tonight, we found out the answer (again): No.

Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and a former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY.

Van Jones: Kamala Harris made history tonight

We do not have vice presidential debates so we can hear the same talking points from different people. The point is to figure out if the people on the stage can serve as commander in chief.

Sen. Kamala Harris made history tonight as a Black woman. After 90 minutes of debate, no one is saying she could not serve as President of the United States. People will quibble with her answers, or disagree with her policies. That is normal. But no one is saying this woman could not do the job. She cleared the bar.

Harris knocked the tar out of Vice President Mike Pence on the Covid-19 pandemic in the beginning and ended strong, talking about justice for all Americans. In the middle, she had to walk that tightrope that all women, especially Black women, know too well. Strong, but not too strong, empathetic but not too emotional. It was not a perfect performance, but she did what she had to do.

Vice President Pence was masterful at one thing: normalizing conservatism. He can take right-wing conspiracy theories and President Donald Trump's grievances and make them sound mellow and unthreatening. But he also did it by being Mike the Mansplainer in Chief, constantly talking over Harris and the moderator.

CNN host Van Jones is the CEO of the REFORM Alliance, a criminal justice organization.

SE Cupp: Pence's performance won't play well with the people whose votes he needs

As always, I watched and listened to the vice presidential debate through the eyes and ears of white suburban women -- not just because I am one, but because those voters may very well determine the fate of the election.

And what I saw was a man who talked over not just his female opponent but also the female moderator. He mansplained and condescended. He ignored the rules, the format, the questions, and moderator Susan Page's attempts to cut him off. It wasn't as buffoonish as President Donald Trump's performance last week—Vice President Mike Pence remained calm, avoided petty insults and stuck mostly to talking points -- but that was, in a way, worse.

Trump doesn't have the dexterity, discipline or knowledge base to stay on topic, answer questions directly, follow the rules and avoid ad hominem. Pence does, and instead chose to disrespect the two women on that stage.

For the white suburban women who have fled the Republican Party and Trump in droves, it was an echo of the past few years, where they've felt disrespected and turned off by this administration's divisiveness, fear-mongering, incompetence, corruption, bigotry and politics of revenge. It wasn't just a bad look for the Trump-Pence ticket, it was an insult to the very women they need to stay in office.

SE Cupp is a CNN political commentator and the host of "SE Cupp Unfiltered."

Lanhee Chen: Pence's biggest accomplishment of the night

The American people saw a much more normal debate tonight. And it allowed them to understand that there are stark differences in policy between what four more years of Donald Trump would look like, as compared to a Biden-Harris administration. The differences across issues as wide ranging as energy policy, criminal justice policy and taxation were particularly striking.

Vice President Pence's ability to characterize Kamala Harris and the Democratic ticket more broadly as overly progressive was his biggest accomplishment of the night. For example, Pence's assertion that Biden's interest in repealing the Trump tax cuts will mean tax hikes for all voters on day one of a new administration was an effective attack that was largely left unanswered by Harris.

Also impactful was his claim that both Biden and Harris have, at times, embraced energy policies that could have real economic impacts in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. These are the economic issues on which the Trump-Pence ticket should focus their fire in the closing weeks of the campaign.

It's unlikely that the VP debate will ultimately have any real impact on the election unless Trump can execute these substantive attacks against Joe Biden in the same disciplined way that Pence did on Wednesday. He'll have the first real chance to do so when he meets Biden at the second presidential debate next week.

Lanhee J. Chen is the David and Diane Steffy Fellow in American Public Policy Studies at the Hoover Institution and Director of Domestic Policy Studies in the Public Policy Program at Stanford University. He served as policy director of Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign and senior adviser to Marco Rubio's campaign in 2016.

Raul Reyes: Why Harris was the clear winner

On style, substance and strategy, the clear winner of the debate was Kamala Harris. She seemed simultaneously passionate and relaxed as she prosecuted her case against the Trump administration. Right from the start, she mentioned the devastating numbers of the coronavirus pandemic (over 210,000 Americans dead), as well as January 28 -- the date the President and Vice President reportedly knew about the potential impact of the pandemic.

Harris deftly brought up Trump's taxes and his failure to clearly and forcefully condemn White supremacy, while pushing back against Mike Pence's repeated interruptions.

Most importantly, she spoke affirmatively to Biden's record, mentioning his faith, his role in saving the auto industry and his fundamental belief in science. Harris never lost her cool, which says a lot -- given the high stakes of this matchup.

With Trump behind in most polls, this was Pence's last real chance to change the trajectory of the race. But he was not up for the job and looked miserable for nearly the entire debate. Several times, he brought the focus back to the coronavirus, a topic he would have been wise to avoid as much as possible. His vague answers on climate change and racial justice made him seem out of step with the national mood. And his attempts to speak over the moderator were no doubt grating to any women who has been "mansplained" or similarly talked over.

The missed opportunity of the evening was immigration. Out of the nine topics the moderator Susan Page introduced, not one question about Trump's signature issue?

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and a member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes.

Keith Boykin: The insect omen at Wednesday's debate

If there was one omen about Wednesday night's debate, it came from the fly that landed on Mike Pence's hair and stayed there. Its unexpected appearance distracted from Pence's message and indicated that the night was going less than perfectly for the Vice President.

Going into Wednesday night's debate, I thought the expectations for Kamala Harris were unreasonably high. By the end of the night, however, she met them. She prosecuted the case against Donald Trump. She defended Joe Biden and her own record. And she managed to do it all while walking a racist, sexist tightrope that holds professional Black women to unfair standards of decorum.

Trailing badly in the polls, Pence needed to score a knockout to change the momentum of the campaign. Instead, he repeated empty platitudes and talking points that contradicted the truth about the coronavirus and the economy. And after months of struggling under the weight of the pandemic and an economy in freefall, Americans knew Pence was defending the indefensible.

In the end, nothing that happened in the debate did anything to move the needle. And that's bad news for the Trump-Pence 2020 ticket.

Keith Boykin is a CNN political commentator and a former White House aide to President Bill Clinton.

Jessica Anderson: Harris is not a good look for Biden

The vice presidential debate was the one America needed.

Before this debate, the American people wondered which Kamala Harris would show up -- the loyal running mate or the liberal warrior? Now we know. She showed that progressives are trying to be Joe Biden's boss. And that cost her the debate.

Last year, Harris was rated more liberal than any other US Senator by GovTrack.us, and her performance on Wednesday proved nothing has changed. She promised a repeal of Trump's tax cuts, which a Heritage Foundation study shows help the middle class, refused to disavow the Green New Deal she co-sponsored, and dodged the court-packing question.

Wednesday's performance showed progressives like Harris still have the same goals as ever — but now they're using Biden to achieve those goals.

Mike Pence, in contrast, offered a clear vision for America. An America of law and order, one that provides economic opportunity for all Americans, and one that takes on China. Most importantly, Pence has the same vision for America as President Donald Trump. There is no space between them. Trump and Pence are a team, playing for the same goal -- the same cannot be said of Biden and Harris.

Jessica Anderson is Executive Director of Heritage Action, a nationwide grassroots organization. She is also the Founder and President of Moms for Safe Neighborhoods, a PAC advocating on safety and security issues and supporting President Trump. Anderson formerly served as an Associate Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget from 2017 to 2018. Follow her on Twitter at @JessAnderson2.

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