Where Trump blusters and bullies and blurts outrageous lies trying to overwhelm his opponent, the oleaginous Mike Pence is what these tactics look like dressed in a more traditional Republican of recent vintage. Both are deniers of reality. Both want to spin an alternative version of how the universe works, what people believe, what is true. Neither roots any of this, of course, in provable argument outside their own assertions of it.
But while Trump tries to bludgeon you with brute force with his version of the world, Pence oozes over-the-top sincerity wrapped in a constant spew of faux flattery for the all-wise “American people.” While the styles are different, the intents are the same. The ever-obsequious Pence is, in fact, the almost perfect complement – the Mini-Me – to the crude and erratic Trump.
All Kamala Harris had to do in this debate was to appear as a reasonable human, a stand-in for an audience exhausted by her opponents’ dissembling of an alternative universe and battered by the failures of an administration in way over its head. Pence, for his part, also played his role perfectly, lecturing and manexplaining and condescending as he registered his “disbelief,” his “shock,” his “disappointment” in the Biden/Harris “record of failure” and the almost certain “radical left” dystopia that awaits should they prevail.
Last week Trump was criticized for his constant interruptions in his debate with Biden. Pence’s version of this tactic was to ignore moderator Susan Page’s questions to talk about whatever he wanted, and to speak for however long he wanted. Harris also failed to answer questions directly as well – which was irritating – as she tried to squeeze in details of her resume and pay homage to what Joe wants to do. But beware the false equivalence; Pence’s rhetorical excursions were fantasies – about Trump’s reverence for science, about the administration’s careful stewardship of the environment, about Trump’s love for “all Americans” and his role as a uniter. Harris obviously didn’t want to answer some questions, but she avoided outright lying and describing realities that don’t exist.
Pence kept demanding Harris answer his questions. She was under no obligation to follow him down his rabbit holes, but her brushing him off did make her seem evasive.
None of the four candidates in this election – Biden, Trump, Pence and Harris – are great orators. None will make your heart soar with their eloquence. But if Harris failed to strike any big high points, she didn’t need to. All she needed to do was play the part of a normal reasonable human, which made the contrast to the oily Pence all too clear. This she did.