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Let’s Talk Politics in 10 Minutes or Less: The Vice Presidential Debate

Following the Presidential Debate between Democrat nominee Joe Biden and Republican nominee/current President Donald Trump, the Vice Presidential Debate was expected to be a return to "normalcy."

However, one commonality between the Vice Presidential and Presidential debates was the inability of the moderator to efficiently control the debate. This resulted in interruptions, talking over the time limit, and question avoidance on the part of both candidates. Given the polemical nature of the debate, a partisan split was inevitable, with the common sentiment that viewers would continue to “like what their candidate did, dislike the other candidate, and no minds will change,” as tweeted by Bruce Haynes.  

Here's a breakdown of the main topics and reactions regarding the debate:

The COVID-19 Response

The debate began with questions regarding the COVID-19 response, a topic about which both candidates had a lot to say. Senator Harris began by calling out the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, stating, “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.” Following this, Harris threw out a number of devastating statistics about the severity of the pandemic, before concluding that “This [the Trump] administration has forfeited their right to re-election.” 

In response to this, Vice President Pence calmly acknowledged that the nation had indeed gone through a “very challenging time,” and took a swing at Biden, remarking that the Democratic plan for Covid-19 looked “a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about.”

The Supreme Court

Another prominent topic the debate touched on was in regard to President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, who is known for her conservative record, especially in regard to reproductive rights. On this topic, Vice President Pence directly challenged Senator Harris on whether “she and Mr. Biden would endorse expanding the Supreme Court if Mr. Trump’s nominee for the current vacancy...was seated," but Harris aptly dodged giving a concrete response . 

Pence remarked, at the conclusion of the segment, “You gave a non-answer. Joe Biden gave a non-answer.” 

As concluded by reporter Shane Goldmacher, “the weakest moment of the night for Ms. Harris came on the courts.”

Criticisms of Mike Pence

After the debate, criticisms were launched at both sides. 

In response to Pence’s tendency to redirect difficult questions asked of him, (most commonly about the Biden economic agenda), Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York asked: “Why is it that Mike Pence doesn’t seem to have to answer any of the questions asked of him in this debate?” 

Additionally, Pence’s frequent interruption of Harris and Page earned him criticism by numerous spectators. As said by Brittney Cooper, a professor of women’s studies at Rutgers, “Every woman knows what it’s like to be interrupted by an incessant mansplainer.”

According to CBS News, Pence interrupted Harris ten times, while Harris interrupted Pence five times. Additionally, the time distribution, or how long each candidate spoke, was 38 minutes and 2 seconds for Pence and  35 minutes and 20 seconds for Harris, although the total number questions posed to each was equal. The gendered dynamics of the debate were evident.

Criticisms of Kamala Harris

The main criticism for Senator Kamala Harris was that she came off as “evasive,” “snarky,” and “unpresidential” to certain spectators, as reported by Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster – it’s important to note that these adjectives were the ones commonly used by individuals in Luntz's specific focus group to describe unfavorable impressions of Harris.

Additional criticisms for Senator Harris included her tendency to avoid certain questions, similar to Vice President Pence, and her continued preference to instead pivot to topics she was more comfortable discussing.

However, Harris was also praised on her debate skills, with CNN commentator Van Jones writing that  “between the moderation and Pence taking up so much ground, Kamala handled a terrible situation masterfully.” 

At the end of the night, it’s clear that neither of the debates so far has changed any minds or greatly affected the outcome of the overall race. Still, it is critical that voters conduct in-depth research on each candidate and exercise their given right to contribute to the state of our nation. 

Cheryl Chang

U Penn '24

Cheryl is an adjective. It describes someone whose always bubbly and nice, cheerful and optimistic. Additionally, Cheryl characterizes someone who is a dreamer and a believer. In fact, Cheryl lives by the motto "Anything is possible as long as you believe" by Peter Pan (i think).
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