After the initial, chaotic debate between the two US presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the clash between their two running mates, Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris, seemed almost old-fashioned. Both candidates were particularly outstanding at evading questions to sell their prepared positions.
Questions without answers
Moderator Susan Page, bureauchef van USA Today in Washington, gave no advance insight into the themes she wanted to address or the questions she would ask. A total of nine themes were discussed, each with a question for both candidates. They were given two minutes per answer, followed by a free discussion.
The atmosphere was very different from that of the decidedly hostile and unprecedentedly chaotic first debate between Trump and Biden. The candidates attacked each other extensively, but remained relatively courteous and barely broke into the other’s reserved speaking time.
That’s not to say the ninety-minute debate can be described as tame. In times past (read: before the first presidential debate) the tone would likely have been described as fierce. During the free discussions they interrupted each other more often and the exchanges were sometimes a bit prickly. “Mr. Vice President, I am speaking,” Harris said several times to her opponent.
After about an hour, Page paused the debate to emphasize the need to follow the rules, after both candidates continued to speak a number of times after their speaking time had expired. Vice President Pence, in particular, was sometimes difficult to brake, but Harris was also active.
The California senator got off to a solid start at the start of the debate, describing the Trump administration’s corona approach as “the greatest government failure in American history.” Pence, head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, defended that policy, arguing that it prevented millions of deaths. It was surprising that the pandemic dominated for the first half hour, but then quickly faded into the background.
Both candidates readily used standard avoidance tactics. Moderator Page stressed that Harris and Pence should not interrupt each other, but barely intervened when her questions went unanswered and the candidates brought their pre-prepared discussion points to the fore.
Harris devoted her response to the question of what a Biden administration would do differently to address the corona crisis entirely to attacking the Trump administration’s actions. In turn, Pence said between nose and lips that the American people have a right to transparency when it comes to the health of presidential candidates, to immediately move to a statement of thanks for the support and compassion Trump received after his corona diagnosis.
Pence scored some points by effectively insisting that Team Biden never answered the question of whether the Democrats will increase the number of Supreme Court justices if the Republicans name the highly conservative Amy Coney Barrett as successor to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg . Harris did not answer either, despite repeated urges by the vice president. The Democratic candidate missed the opportunity to point out that just before that her opponent did the same to a question about health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions.
Mike Pence and Kamala Harris are running mates in the presidential election in November. (Photo: ANP)
In addition to selling their story to the entire American electorate, the candidates had smaller audiences in mind on several topics. A discussion of fracking, which the Trump campaign falsely claims Biden wants to ban, clearly focused on the population of the pivotal swing state of Pennsylvania. When the trade war with China came up, Harris seized the opportunity to address American farmers, a profession largely belonging to Camp Trump.