4 Trending Moments from the Pence & Harris Vice Presidential Debate

So, it feels like it's been a year since the last debate. In a unique October surprise, multiple members of the White House — including President Trump, the first lady, the press secretary, and others — tested positive for Covid-19. In light of the ongoing outbreak among members of Trump’s team, aspects of the debate format changed in the last week. 

Tonight when Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris stepped into the spotlight, they were separated by a wide gap and plexiglass partitions. It accurately illustrated the candidates’ striking contrasts.

While VP debates typically aren’t consequential enough to decide a presidential contest, voters viewed the face-off between Pence and Harris as a better chance to understand the issues. The candidates delivered by sticking to policy, correcting for last week's maelstrom. With USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page moderating, the format was divided into nine themed segments covering the coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court and more. 

Read on to learn more about the trending moments from the only Pence-Harris debate of the season and how the number-twos fared against each other.

1. There wasn’t as much interrupting, but there was A LOT of not answering the question.

Pence and Harris played by the rules and scaled back interrupting each other (but just barely). While Pence came off ultra-calm, Harris was more animated. Both relied on facial expressions to say the things they would’ve liked to say while their opponent was talking. The split screen did a lot of the storytelling tonight, and Harris in particular said plenty with no words at all.

What was most notable about the debate is that both candidates continually avoided answering questions that Page posed to them, instead swtiching to topics they preferred. 

Pence spoke about Qasem Soleimani in response to a question about abortion. When asked if climate change is a threat, he dodged and spoke about taxes. When he wasn’t changing the subject, he spent a lot of time stalling with platitudes. 

Harris didn't directly answer Pence's question about whether the Biden administration would pack the court if Amy Coney Barrett's nomination pushes through. When asked what steps she and Joe Biden would take if they won and Trump did not concede, her only response was that she believed in democracy and the American people.

2. The coronavirus took center stage.  

Covid-19, and the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis, was a dominant topic. "The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country," Harris said in her very first answer, slamming the White House for failing to act early in the pandemic. "They knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you," she said. "They knew, and they covered it up."

Pence was named head of the White House coronavirus task force in February. So far, more than 210,000 Americans have died in the pandemic. The vice president’s line of defense during the debate was that he trusts Americans to make their own choices. "When you say what the American people have done over these last eight months hasn't worked, that's a great disservice to the sacrifices the American people have made," Pence said. "The reality is Dr. Fauci said everything that he told the president in the Oval Office the president told the American people."

In one standout moment, Harris said she won’t take the vaccine if only Trump approves of it. Her position on the vaccine is pretty much in line with most of the public in not trusting Trump, according to an Axios-Ipsos poll.

3. Age had added significance. 

Trump (74) and Biden (77)  are the two oldest major party presidential candidates in history. Pence (61) and Harris (55) were asked to make the case that they’re ready to step in, because the presidential candidates might not be able to finish a term – as noted by the concern for Trump’s illness during this past week. Neither candidate provided a direct answer.

However, the VP as surrogate question was a big one here. This was a debate where voters were looking at a potential next president. Even without a clear succession plan, Americans can infer that Pence will be very much representative of the Trump administration, or they can recall that Harris ran to the left of Biden during the primaries.

4. And about that fly...

Viewers saw that a fly landed on the vice president’s head late in the night. And it really stayed there. Posts about the fly eclipsed other debate conversations on Twitter, and even the Biden campaign joined in on the joke. 

As of Wednesday, there are 27 days until Election Day (Nov. 3). Tonight marked the only time that Harris and Pence will debate each other during the campaign. Biden and Trump will debate each other two more times, on October 15 and 22. 

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