Election 2020: “Teflon VP” meets the Prosecutor from California
With one Presidential candidate in “quarantine” in the White House, Wednesday’s debate between Sen. Kamela Harris, Democratic Party candidate for Vice President and Vice President Mike Pence, Republican Party candidate, takes on an urgency not seen before in a Vice President debate. Beltway pundits are characterizing Wednesday’s matchup as perhaps the “most important of the 2020 debates,” for several reasons.
First, as the two Presidential candidates are the two oldest contenders in American campaign history (Trump, 74; Biden, 77, 78 at inauguration) the overriding question(s) of the Vice Presidential debate will be some variation of “how and why are you prepared, if (when)…”
Second, the pandemic raises the credibility stakes of this debate, the first opportunity for two national candidates to discuss outcomes in a public forum after Trump’s hospitalization and ceremonial release Monday.
Third, there are the yawing differences between the two candidates: “Teflon VP” meets former prosecutor and chief lawyer for the fifth largest global economy.
White bread meets bi-immigrant stock. Male meets female. In sum, the two most disparate Vice President candidates to share a debate stage and 6’ of plexiglas.
And finally unlike other Vice President debates — remember Sen. Joe Liberman? Or Sen. Lloyd Bentsen? (I didn’t) — the cable TV viewer has seen a lot of each of the VP candidates, particularly Sen. Harris. And seen a lot of Pence, too, if you include all the times Trump installed him in the background at President “news briefings.”
For the first time we can observe the candidates together with an opportunity to rebut the other’s pronouncements. Though this was true of last week’s “Trumpus interruptus,” we can expect in this debate a modicum of civility so we even attain the rebuttal phase of the debate.
Let’s explore the candidate’s public appearances as a window into what they consider their leadership and executive roles.
Vice President Pence likes to end his hasty appearances with “…and this is what Americans want.” Question is if Pence, the Trump water carrier in chief, says “…and this is what Americans want,” and we are not permitted to substitute the word “Americans” for the words “the President,” how does Pence know?
Pence plays “the good soldier” for Trump. This is the dystopian “deal” they crafted together to win over Evangelicals in 2016. Pence sounds like he speaks in his own voice, but his “talking points” are dictated by the West Wing. Pence needs a script and once in possession of one will bend reality to deliver the script’s “message. But the message is an after-thought, a bromide, sometimes masking a Trump “walk back.” Pence with leather folder underarm, professing to deliver a dictum rehearsed and parsed in the White House. Pence, who strides off the stage with “No more questions. Thank you.”
If there is a “real” Vice President, the role is unofficially taken by Sean Hannity.
Harris on the other hand hails from another cognitive galaxy. She has asked for lots of leash from her running mate, including a good number of sole appearances. Biden doesn’t get in Sen. Harris’s way and she does not get in his. Due in part to the pandemic, and due to optics, Biden and Harris are rarely seen together. And unlike her running mate, Harris is a clever improviser, deflecting a little here, prodding a little there. This stratagem of not being seen together works for mutual benefit.
The jury is out on whether this debate will sink Pence as a viable VP performer. Fortunately for Pence, he is the incumbent and. “next in line” to the recently hospitalized President.
Harris can be confidently deferential and withering in her criticism at the same time. Think adroit prosecutor. This gift will come through in the debate: so the President recovered, how are 210 thousand plus other cases doing?
The “moment” both these Vice President candidates occupy in America’s trajectory is stunning.
Take a look: Pence, older, white, male represents perhaps the last stand-in candidate from an America that WAS: moneyed, privileged, defending a religious ethos and culture that is purist, exclusionary and self-aggrandizing.
Harris represents the first contender from an America BECOMING: female, recent immigrant, bi-Asian Caribbean, aspiring for a country of striving and sacrifice.
All of this does make the VP debate a political watershed moment for America.
Better we listen in.
October 5–6, 2020