“Mr. Vice President, I am speaking”: A Recapitulation of the 2020 Vice Presidential Debate

Greg Bernier, Contributing Writer

At the University of Utah this past Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee and current California Senator Kamala Harris, met for their first and only Vice-Presidential debate before the general elections on Tuesday, November 3. Over 50 million Americans tuned in to follow the program, according to the preliminary Nielsen rating figures obtained by Reuters or a 17 percent increase from the 2016 Vice Presidential Debate ratings. The figures stem from keen anticipation for the debate formed among voters from both political sides following the highly tumultuous and controversial First Presidential Debate on September 29, between President Donald Trump and Democratic Presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden. 

The first debate aggravated both candidates’ supporters due to the shocking levels of unprofessionalism displayed throughout their arguments.

The lack of initiative to quell such unprofessionalism by the “professional” moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace also angered many viewers. Both candidates’ supporters cited the interruptions, personal attacks, and child-like insults thrown amongst each other as the primary reasons for their irritation. Most Americans identifying with both the Democratic and Republican parties hoped for a discussion in the Vice-Presidential Debate that had a fundamental sense of civility and order between the arguing parties. While the debate between Vice President Pence and Senator Harris did not cave to a level below that of the First Presidential Debate, it goes without saying that there were some surprising takeaways. Yet the debate between Vice President Pence and Senator Harris did not exclude interruptions, sound bites, downright refusals to respond to questions, and subject switching.

According to a CBS News count, Vice President Pence interrupted Senator Harris on ten separate occasions throughout the 90-minute debate. In return, Senator Harris interrupted Vice President Pence five times. While not ideal, this number seems minuscule compared to the 73 times President Trump interrupted former Vice President Biden during the First Presidential Debate. Regardless of political affiliation, most voters establish any interruption by either candidate as unfair to their right to express themselves in the time allocated to them given the traditional debate format. Most notably, Senator Harris stood up for herself when Vice President Pence had impeded on her speaking, stating, “Mr. Vice President, I am speaking.”

Followers and observers in the aftermath of the debate commended Harris’s ability to speak up against Pence’s interruption and disregard for her arguments’ contents. While Harris provided the most memorable excerpt of the night, Pence did not lack notable quotes either. One of the most notable ones from him, much to a liberal audience’s dismay, was a rebuttal made on Biden and Harris’ COVID-19 plan. Vice President Pence stated that the opponent’s strategy based itself on much of the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s work.

The task force was formed by President Trump earlier this year on January 29th while Pence was appointed the head of the task force on February 26th. ”It looks a little bit like plagiarism.” Pence stated, outraging many who have despised him and the Trump administration primarily for its poor handling of the coronavirus outbreak and the death toll of more than 200,000 Americans. Pence’s COVID-19 response left an unpleasant taste in the audience’s mouths, particularly amongst liberals and moderates, and now mass media companies and individuals on the internet are striking back at Pence’s statements in the debate’s aftermath.

In addition to some of Vice President Pence’s frustrating statements during the debate, two of the significant complaints amongst debate viewers were his unwillingness to address critical issues directly and his abrupt strategy to refute his opponent instead on unrelated issues. Climate change was one of the notable topics anticipated for the debate, which the Vice President refused to state as an existential threat explicitly. Vice President Pence also refused to directly address the concerns presented by the release of President Trump’s $750 federal income tax payment in 2017, which were made public just before the First Presidential debate on September 29th.

Senator Harris indicated such a low tax return would mean President Trump is currently mounting up tens of millions in debt from business and investment losses. Pence instead chose to address and attack Biden’s potential tax reforms that would cut tax incentives. Both President Trump and Vice President Pence have stated that these tax cuts have enabled the American economy to become more robust. However, Senator Harris disagreed, noting that the tax incentive removals would only impact and increase taxes for the super-wealthy or those making above $400,000 a year. Pence also devoted a significant amount of time on the requisition of manufacturing jobs in the United States (U.S.) under President Trump’s leadership and the President’s success in dealing with China as an economic threat. Experts and voters alike view Pence’s support of the recapturing of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. as an attempt to nurture support amongst working-class men who are low-skilled laborers in that sector. Individuals who have encountered challenges in finding work due to an increase in international trade and companies finding cheaper labor abroad which currently act as one of President Trump’s biggest voting blocs.

In the aftermath of the debate, tweets spread, and a great many memes formed. The hashtag #imSpeaking quickly rose to the top of Twitter’s trending page, as the message of Harris’ advocacy sent ripples throughout the country and internationally following the debate’s closing. The excerpt is likely to end up on T-shirts and bumper stickers that will sell like hotcakes in the weeks leading up to Election Day. GIFs and images of Senator Harris’s reactions to Pence’s statements have also gone viral. In the latter third of the debate, a fly landed on the top of Pence’s head, enabling liberal minds to come together to form comics, memes, and political cartoons depicting the fly supporting Biden and Harris. Many internet commentators and media outlets have noted that flies are attracted to rotting fecal matter, leading to a joke that the fly was attracted to the Vice President because he is a literal pile of feces. Twitter was ready at a moment’s notice to batter Vice President Pence as well. One such commentator stated Pence was “…Not human, but rather an animatronic puppet fueled by homophobia and steaks from Applebee’s.” The humor produced at the expense of the Vice President’s dignity, to many voters and observers alike, was most welcomed.

Some experts have noted that while the discussion between the Vice Presidential candidates was essential to have, the debate did not likely shift many Americans’ opinions towards the other side and more acted to restate both candidates’ apparent views. In an interview by USA Today following the Vice Presidential Debate, debate expert Aaron Kall from the University of Michigan, stated that “There was no major moment in the debate that will move the political needle or radically move independent voters in the race.”

Nevertheless, it is equally critical to note that many Americans have already decided whom they will select on November’s ballot. According to Reuters’ data provided by the United States Elections Project, which compiles early voting data, approximately 4 million Americans have already voted by October 6th, shattering the 2016 early voting numbers which stood at 75,000 around this time of year. These numbers indicate that voter turnout in the 2020 general election will be exceedingly higher than in the 2016 election. Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida and the head of the United States Elections Project, states that voter turnout could be as high as 150 million voters constituting 65 percent of the eligible voting population and the highest percentage turnout since 1908 according to the statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.