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The 2020 vice presidential debate — live blog

With commentary from Amber Athey, Caroline McCarthy, Dominic Green, Freddy Gray, Kate Andrews, Matt McDonald and Stephen L. Miller

October 7, 2020

8:15 PM

7 October 2020

8:15 PM

8:15 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: Hello and welcome to The Spectator’s live blog for the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, Utah, between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris. Along with six of my Spectator comrades, I’ll be offering commentary, analysis and jokes (much more my pace), on whatever unfolds on the University of Utah campus tonight. While the pair may offer a more sober affair than Trump and Biden did last week, Cockburn has knocked up a drinking game so you don’t have to join them. I have a six-pack of Carib, let’s get started.

8:16 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: Vice presidential debates are not that interesting, as a rule. But 2020 is very weird and different and tonight does feel as if it should produce something unusual. I’ve written about it in this week’s UK Spectator here…

8:17 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: We can certainly expect a more serious debate tonight than the one that took place last week. As I reported for The Spectator today, Pence has been prepping for six to eight weeks and has carefully studied Harris’s record. However, the campaign is still finding time to inject some Trumpian flavor into the evening’s events. They’ve left a ticket for Tupac at the debate, ribbing Harris for the time she called him the best rapper alive.

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8:18 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: Kamala is going to pull some role play Twitter stunt tonight. Like, Pence will say ‘Kamala we both know that’s not true.’ And she will say ‘excuse me, it’s SENATOR’ and do the Wakanda Forever gesture. Then the press and Twitter will say she won.

8:18 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: Let’s check in on the world’s most famous outpatient ahead of tonight’s fracas. After rage-quitting negotiations with the Democrats sent the stock market tumbling, President Trump has been playing populist bingo on his Twitter feed. So far today he’s posted about bringing all US troops home from Afghanistan by Christmas and given us this sensational video where he pledges to get all Americans with COVID-19 therapeutics for free, which the Academy should be considering for Best Documentary Short.

8:19 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: I’m curious to see whether Pence paints Harris as some kind of antifa warlord or as the terrifying prosecutor who threw nonviolent drug offenders behind bars. Until this afternoon I was thinking the latter would be more likely.

8:20 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: I asked the campaign about that earlier. They said they intend to point out how she was tough on the most minor of offenses, while letting some of the most hardened criminals off the hook. They say Trump does the opposite: supports criminal justice reform for non-violent offenders but will go full law and order on people who burn cities and destroy businesses. I too was wondering how they would thread that needle because it does seem hypocritical on its face.

8:21 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: That’s interesting (and it could work). I’m also somewhat concerned I’ll fall asleep, lulled into slumber by the gentle timbre of Mike Pence’s voice reciting political talking points.

8:26 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: The first thing that strikes foreigners when they watch American TV is the weird infomercials for medicinal drugs. Now the President is doing them in the first person style. God bless America…

8:27 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: Does anyone have any thoughts about how the breakdown in stimulus talks could affect tonight? Or whether there’s any significance to the Trump campaign slashing their digital ad spend in the Midwest?

8:28 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: Sometimes presidential ads are meant to drive turnout that could influence down-ballot races, and the decision to pull them could have to do with the state of those races. I was driving through northern New Jersey over the weekend, and there were tons of Trump billboards around. He’s not winning New Jersey. But there are competitive congressional races up there, and clearly Trump’s name recognition is stronger than that of the guy running against Josh Gottheimer.

8:47 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: Right, final predictions for the night?

8:53 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: I feel like I’ve already watched this debate. I said on my podcast today that Harris was going to hammer Trump for being COVID-positive and that Pence should talk about Minneapolis. Then I learned that Pence has brought a Minneapolis hairdresser whose business burned down to the debate…also I can’t imagine why anyone thinks foreign policy should be any part of this debate. COVID and police protests. That’s it. Mike Pence should call Kamala a cop. Chris Wallace on Fox says Pence has to win tonight. But Pence isn’t going to win because tomorrow the media is going to say he was sexist/racist no matter what.

8:56 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: All this over-briefed hype about how Kamala is going to show calm and maturity tonight — because women unlike men are able to control their emotions, natch — makes me think she might end up going the other way. Pence, by dint of being frustratingly dull, is good at making people angry, as he proved against Kaine in 2016. Kamala’s bogus equanimity will be tested.

8:58 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: I hope Mike Pence gets frustrated, loosens his tie and asks Harris about Jussie Smollett.

9:00 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: I do think Pence can do a much better job defending the administration’s COVID response, if only because he knows how to stay on message and we know they prepared hard for that line of attack.

9:01 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: Man I’m a little nervous. I feel like Mike Pence stumbling into the Blue Oyster Club or Kamala walking into incarcerated general population.

9:04 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: I think until the White House outbreak, Pence absolutely would’ve been able to defend the administration’s COVID response — and I say this as someone who thinks the USA would’ve had a clumsy COVID response regardless of who’s in the White House. The past couple of days really threw a fork into it.

9:05 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: Pence being 12 feet apart from Harris is the only reason his wife agreed to this debate.

9:05 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: The theater of reassuring everyone that the event is socially distanced and that everyone is wearing masks is quite annoying. I’ve noticed that everyone feels required to give that disclaimer now otherwise they get bullied.

9:05 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: Is Marlon Bundo in the audience with the rest of the Pence family?

9:06 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: This opening monologue is obviously a jab at Trump from last week’s debate, as well as Chris Wallace’s moderation.

9:07 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: Pence should just mouth one of his answers like he’s behind plexiglass and we can’t hear him. Harris debates like a prosecutor but it doesn’t play during a debate.

9:09 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: Harris gets in a Bidenism — ‘here’s the thing’ — in her first answer. Without offering an answer to the question though…

9:10 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: Well it took Kamala less than two minutes to lie. The Associated Press has fact checked the claim that Trump called the virus a ‘hoax’ and determined that he was calling the Democratic claims that he is mishandling the virus a ‘hoax’.

9:10 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: Harris comes across like she’s giving a monologue on The West Wing. I have never seen The West Wing.

9:12 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: Wow, I was not expecting Pence to go in on the Biden plagiarism accusations.

9:13 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: Mike Pence with a Neil Kinnock drop. Is the Biden plagiarism thing something that the average voter even knows about, or is it going to go right over their heads?

9:15 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: It will likely appeal to older voters who know that it sunk Biden’s 1988 campaign. I suspect he may get into more detail later to follow up the reference.

9:16 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: ‘Calmala’ is already gone. All that training with about Buttigieg out the window. Pence’s reassuring tone is OTT but it’s working better than Harris’s approach.

9:16 p.m. ET — Kate Andrews: We’re about 10 minutes in, and I don’t feel a sharp pain in my left eye this time, so it’s off to a better start than the first presidential debate. Both Harris and Pence feel like they’ve already had more cut-through in their first answers than perhaps their ballot-mate had in 90 minutes last week. Harris refuses to answer plans for future lockdown, Pence dodges questions about America’s (comparatively) high death toll to other developed countries. But what’s being said (and not being said) can be heard this time — quite literally.

9:17 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: We’re 10 minutes into the debate and Mike Pence has so far refused to condemn the Proud Boys.

9:17 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: I do think it’s interesting that the Biden campaign is doubling down on attacking the Trump campaign for business shutdowns and unemployment while also suggesting they’re going to lock down the country again. It’s so hypocritical. What would they have done differently?

9:18 p.m. ET — Dominic Green: Pence wasn’t convincing about the White House ‘super-spreader’ event; he also ran out of time. Though no leader or vice would have an easy time answering for any government’s handling of coronavirus, he doesn’t look good. Harris came back strong with the economic angle.

9:18 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: I don’t want to sound facetious — and I think he is winning the debate — but Pence looks a bit sick. His eyes are raw.


9:19 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: He only looks pale because Trump is so orange.

9:20 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: ‘If Donald Trump tells us to take it, I’m not taking it.’ She sounds like my five-year-old daughter on a bad day.

9:21 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: A vaccine in ‘less than a year’ is a big row-back from ‘by a very special day’ which is what Trump was wistfully floating a few weeks back.

9:24 p.m. ET — Kate Andrews: Harris should have a lot of COVID ammo to work with — yet her criticisms of Pence and the President so far have surprisingly little to do with the administration’s actual handling of the pandemic. Her line about the workers who didn’t have enough money saved to get through the economic shutdown (because they weren’t made aware of the virus in good time) suggests that workers in other countries had some kind of opportunity to do so. Writing from the UK, this doesn’t remotely ring true.

9:24 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: I accidentally overcooked my salmon and yet it’s still not as dry as that last answer from Harris.

9:25 p.m. ET — Dominic Green: Harris is doing a good job of upstaging Pence by smiling in disbelief when he’s talking. It emphasizes the optic of an older white man trying to be reasonable while talking over a woman of color who’s ‘emotional’. Harris is now pushing her credentials as a pioneer in sex and race. She’s ahead so far.

9:26 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: Just putting it out there that we would probably be in a better place as a country if this was the actual POTUS debate.

9:27 p.m. ET — Kate Andrews: We’d be in a much better position indeed. For a start, we’ve heard full sentences this time. And we’re just starting to tease out, especially on COVID so far, the different offers from the two parties.

9:27 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: Pence goes gracious; Harris can’t cope.

9:27 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: Yes, Harris hasn’t shown any class yet — seems ironic to use that word in the Trump era.

9:28 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: I find Harris’s constant eye-rolling and smirking to be quite petulant and bratty considering how respectful and cordial Pence is being.

9:29 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: The Trump administration really hasn’t been uniquely evasive about the President’s health when you put it into a historical context. FDR’s paralysis, JFK’s various health problems, Reagan’s declining mental faculties, etc…never fully disclosed to the American people, sometimes with an elite White House press corps fully complicit.

9:32 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: Kamala Harris just repeated Bernie Sanders’s platform almost verbatim.

9:33 p.m. ET — Dominic Green: This is settling into a 90s-style debate between a centrist liberal and an evangelical, with the shade of Eddie Van Halen in attendance.

9:34 p.m. ET — Kate Andrews: Harris calls for tax hikes in the wake of a pandemic. Possibly one of the worst policy ideas to spur on economic recovery. Difference between last week and this week is that the candidate was able to make this clear to voters. Biden mentioned tax rises during the first presidential debate, only to be yelled over. He didn’t expand on it, nor did he have to defend it. Pence capitalizing on Harris’s remarks well: ‘Americans, you just heard Sen. Harris tell you: on day one, Joe Biden’s going to raise your taxes.’

9:35 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: Ugh, there goes Pence mansplaining the Trump tax cut…this ‘Pence is rude, actually’ play is not going to work.

9:37 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: Harris’s voice keeps wobbling though — I wonder if she is actually horribly nervous.

9:38 p.m. ET — Kate Andrews: It doesn’t feel — so far anyway — that Harris’s accusations of being spoken over are working. First, it doesn’t compare to last week in the slightest. Second, it feels a lot more like a dialogue tonight, and suggesting he can’t speak (and laughing when he does) gives the sense that she just doesn’t have a comeback.

9:39 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: Pence hit his groove on climate change and fracking of all things. Research paid off. That was an execution.

9:40 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: Why are Pence’s eyes so red? The juxtaposition of the soothing voice and the bloodshot gaze is strange.

9:41 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: He got some weed off one of Kamala’s inmates on the way in.

9:42 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: ‘Botox’ is trending because people on Twitter are speculating that both candidates got injections before the debate. Finally, gender equality!

9:42 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: ‘Reputable Wall Street firm,’ says Harris. ‘You just lost the left,’ coughs Trump at his TV.

9:44 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: Trump is now tweeting but feels like someone else in his account. Just video clips so far. Suspicious lack of CAPITALS.

9:45 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: Pence thanked the moderator for pointing out the Green New Deal is on Biden’s website and quoted Harris back to her. This was a murder.

9:45 p.m. ET — Dominic Green: I didn’t expect Pence to take the environmental round. But he got a solid answer in first and Harris didn’t quite extricate herself from Biden’s double talk on the Green New Deal. Pence’s second answer drove home Biden and Harris’s weakness on tax, anti-fracking and the Paris Accords. I feel that Harris is talking on environment as if COVID never happened and Greta Thunberg is still in town.

9:46 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: And now Harris is bludgeoning pence on jobs and offshoring — is this opposite land?

9:47 p.m. ET — Kate Andrews: Biden put on the record multiple times this summer that he would not ban fracking outright. But it’s a messy position, as there’s a suggestion he would ban it on federal land. The real liability on this issue is Harris, who has been a big advocate of the Green New Deal and bans on fracking. A stance they’ll be trying to keep quiet when speaking to Pennsylvania swing voters, no doubt.

9:48 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: Pence is actually quite a subtle debater. He seems to be responding to what Harris is saying before getting into his own attack lines. Harris just doesn’t seem able to do that.

9:50 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: Pence’s point about Harris not supporting USMCA is brutally effective. That perfectly illustrates why voters won’t warm to her.

9:51 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: Twitter is going insane over Pence’s bloodshot eyes and speculating he has COVID, which makes me think people are getting bored with this debate and talking about more exciting things instead.

9:53 p.m. ET — Kate Andrews: It’s a tough argument to make, but Harris is doing a decent job of simplifying the problem with trade wars: in short, you threaten jobs in your own country and make your nation poorer.

9:54 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: Ohhhh boy, here we go into Russiagate. Are we really going down this road again?

9:55 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: Kamala Harris did not answer what the stance of the Biden admin is on China. She can’t sell the Iran Deal after Bahrain and UAE established ties with Israel. Her talking points are from 2015.

9:56 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: Pence should get into Biden’s actual record on China. He voted in favor of normalizing trade relations with them which was one of the trends that helped destroy US manufacturing and mocked the idea of China being a global threat when he launched his presidential campaign.

9:59 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: Harris sounds like she is going to cry. Pence looks like he’s been crying.

10 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: I know what a bounty is Kamala, it’s a bit like bail…

10:03 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: I wonder what emoji Dougie is sending to Chasten.

10:04 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: I’m still kind of stuck on Harris using Wall Street to defend Joe Biden. Sorry if I’m like 20 minutes behind.

10:05 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: Moderator interrupting mid-sentence is unforgivable. Throw her into a volcano.

10:06 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: Neither candidate wants to decisively answer the Roe v. Wade speculation.

10:08 p.m. ET — Kate Andrews: ‘We’re literally in an election,’ says Harris. Thank goodness — imagine if this were our idea of fun.

10:09 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: Pence demands an answer on the court packing question, which has been asked repeatedly of the Biden campaign and we’ve never gotten a clear answer on. I’m glad he brought this up.

10:10 p.m. ET — Kate Andrews: Sadly Amber, I don’t think you’re getting an answer.

10:11 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: Harris’s ‘history lesson’ moment deserves to down as clanger for the televisual ages.

10:11 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: She also failed to call Abraham Lincoln a racist, in what I consider to be a disgraceful betrayal of the base.

10:13 p.m. ET — Stephen L. Miller: Harris was asked directly again if they would pack the court. No answer. For two minutes she would not answer. The debate moderator tried to move on without an answer. She never answered the question and the moderator just thanked Pence instead of asking for an answer. Holy shit, amazing. We just had a five-minute exchange with a moderator and Harris still got off without answering the court packing question.

10:16 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: Harris uses ‘torture’ to describe the death of George Floyd on the day that Derek Chauvin, the officer that killed him, made bail. Not as heavy a term as ‘murder’, but a visceral one nonetheless.

10:18 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: Pence’s best answer of the night on law and order ruined by a fly landing on his head.

10:18 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: FLY ON HIS HEAD.

10:18 p.m. ET — Dominic Green: Stuck in the hair spray.

10:18 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: He’s died of COVID!

10:18 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald: Does the fly have a Twitter account yet? Or an OnlyFans?

10:18 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: If this were Ted Cruz, he’d eat it.

10:19 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: Harris bragging about her prosecutorial record is not going to end well, I don’t think.

10:19 p.m. ET — Dominic Green: It checks Pence on law and order though. Harris switches from that to condemning Trump as racist in a quavering voice.

10:20 p.m. ET — Kate Andrews: ‘Bad cops are bad for good cops.’ Good line from Harris. Where does she fall on that scale, given her controversial record when attorney general in California? Her positions on criminal justice reform seem to have evolved quite a lot since she oversaw locking people up. That evolution is good — but it’s been a real journey, with residents of CA victims of that learning process.

10:20 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: Jesus, the fly is still there.

10:21 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: I think it has gone — at last. That was the funniest thing ever.

10:22 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: What if it was a female fly? MOTHER!

10:24 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: Does anyone else hear that noise in the background?

10:24 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: Someone is sneezing. DRINK!

10:25 p.m. ET — Kate Andrews: ‘You increased the disproportionate incarceration of blacks in California. You did nothing on criminal justice reform…you didn’t lift a finger to pass the First Step Act on Capitol Hill.’ Mike Pence has showed up to this debate.

10:25 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: That is one hell of a sneezing fit.

10:26 p.m. ET — Dominic Green: This was closely fought undercard from two candidates who, unlike last week’s acts, are unencumbered by charisma. Their common mediocrity is unlikely to have much of an impact on undecided voters, or on a Harris run for 2024. The predictable, party-line arguments contrast so strongly with the personal and unpredictable Trump-Biden debate that you have to wonder which is real and which is an act. The answer, I think, is that the personalized pursuit of power in Trump-Biden was the reality and this appeal to values is an ideological theater. I feel I’ve seen this debate every four years for decades.

10:28 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: Yes. A lot of the issues that were getting discussed could’ve been talking points in the Nineties.

10:29 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: The winner tonight was the fly who landed on Mike Pence’s head and provided a bit of surprise and spontaneity in what came across primarily as a deeply predictable debate.

10:31 p.m. ET — Amber Athey: Pence mopped the floor with Harris. She was constantly on defense and had to resort to multiple lies to attack the Trump administration: that the tax cut did not help average families, that Trump called neo-Nazis ‘very fine people’, that Biden has been ‘very clear’ on fracking, that she never attacked any judicial nominees for their religion, and that Trump called Mexicans ‘rapists and criminals’. If those smears were the best she could do, she should be very thankful that there is only one VP debate.

10:32 p.m. ET — Caroline McCarthy: Pence’s unity message is extremely good. And it’s a stark contrast from, well, his boss.

10:32 p.m. ET — Freddy Gray: Aside from the fly and the bloodshot eye, Pence won tonight. Harris has some moments but she is stilted and just talked in platitudes. Pence is not the most winning personality but he came across and decent and intelligent and civil.

10:33 p.m. ET — Dominic Green: As with software, so with ideology: politics is decades behind the reality. These two could have been cryogenically frozen in 1992. In fact, Pence looks only partly defrosted. On the upside, neither of them came across as pillheads.

10:36 p.m. ET — Kate Andrews: The presidential candidates each needed something unique from their VP pick tonight: Trump needed Pence to return some fragment of stability and respect to the debates. Biden needed Harris to get behind his more moderate proposals, compared to what she herself advocated in the primaries. On these counts, both speakers did the job tonight. But Pence surprisingly stood out — over the detail, challenging Harris in areas still thought to be Democrat territory (criminal justice reform) and seemed more willing to engage in debate (Harris’s treatment questions and interaction like inappropriate interjection just didn’t work). Harris’s strongest moments came when she attacked the substance of certain Trump and Pence policies (think trade wars), rather than the broad problems that have haunted every developed nation in the age of Covid. It wasn’t quite a wash — I’d say Pence came out on top. But both challenged each other, and neither gave us a migraine. A win for America, really.

10:40 p.m. ET — Matt McDonald:I went into this evening with no faith in politics, no love for either candidate and very little skin in the game. After last week’s horror show, I was just hoping for an actual debate of the issues. Both candidates exceeded my extremely low expectations in that respect. Pence was the better overall performer and won most of the arguments; most of the American media will opt to ignore that. A number of failing legacy titles are cutting together Kamala Harris fancam reels as we speak. This was a foregone conclusion, an even contest, ultimately a waste of time.


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