David: Wow, was Kamala Harris flat. I am still waiting for that fiery prosecutor to show up for the debate. Someone should have told her that pursed lips and a piercing glare were not a debate strategy.
I’d love to say that Vice President Mike Pence’s smarmy failure to answer most questions left the field open to his opponent’s experienced cross examination, but that didn’t happen.
Pence won the first contact over COVID by putting his answers in terms of the American people’s sacrifices and Harris didn’t have an answer. I am so disappointed in her.
Jill: We had completely opposite impressions. Pence left me cold, and I found Harris impressive from the start. To me the debate could have ended with her first answer — when she said Pence and President Donald Trump had forfeited their right to be reelected because of their tragic, disastrous failure on COVID.
Both of them were good at not answering questions, but he was better. He didn't even try to pretend Trump has any kind of plan to protect insurance coverage for tens of millions of people with preexisting medical conditions, who now include over 7 million COVID survivors. The only plan is to get the Supreme Court to kill the Affordable Care Act, a major achievement of the Obama-Biden administration, that protects them now.
Pence was also good at using ridiculous math to obscure the impact of the Trump-Pence tax cuts. He can repeat ad infinitum that the average American family got a $2,000 tax cut, but that doesn't mean your family got a $2,000 tax cut. Eighty percent of families got far less. As actor Will Swenson tweeted of himself and his wife, actress Audra McDonald, "Between my wife and I we have an average of three Tonys each. (Her 6, me 0)."
David: I don’t know how you could have been impressed with Harris. She completely failed to explain how completely abnormal the Trump administration has been. It was like she was having a debate with a regular Republican instead of the gray-haired handmaid for insanity.
You are right that Pence was cold. He was so deadly still that a fly landed on his head and cuddled in for the night.
In a sense, Pence lost even though his performance was better. He and Trump are behind by double digits in some national polls, and they needed to get some traction out of this debate. It is hard to see how they got much.
I think you are wrong on taxes. Pence’s talk of averages distorts the numbers, but even NPR admitted during the tax cut debate that families in the $50,000 to $75,000 range would get tax cuts. Biden and Harris have to stop talking about repealing Trump’s tax cuts wholesale and admit they just want to partially reverse them as Obama did with Bush’s tax cuts.
Jill: I think Pence was misleading on taxes and so much else. As for Harris, I don't think it was necessary to explain to America that Trump is abnormal. He demonstrated that to 70 million people for 90 minutes in the debate with Joe Biden. And the moderator Wednesday night (our own Susan Page) drove the point home by asking Pence about his responsibility if Trump loses and refuses, as he has threatened, to accept a peaceful transfer of power (another question Pence didn't answer).
Harris hit all her marks and then some. She demolished Pence on the tired talking point about being all about freedom and trusting the American people to make their own health care choices. "You respect the American people when you tell them the truth," Harris said — when you give them the information they need to protect their health.
Oh, and I loved the split screens of her "are you effing kidding me" face while Pence was talking.
Importance of the VP debate: Harris-Pence vice presidential debate is hugely important, and not just due to Trump's COVID
David: Pence’s refusal to answer questions is really disrespectful of average Americans who take their time to watch a debate. I can’t say how frustrating it is, but did you notice the time Harris refused to answer Pence’s question about packing the Supreme Court?
Republicans know they stole Antonin Scalia’s seat in 2016 that Obama should have been able to fill. They also know that justifiably angry Democrats are looking to even the scales through expanding the court. Biden and Harris owe the American public a straight answer on whether they are down with that maneuver.
I will give Harris some points for humanity. While Pence seemed frozen in amber, his Democratic opponent was engaged and human, she smiled with her whole face and had a warmth that I think people will find profoundly appealing. It’s akin to the empathy that Biden exudes and that is such a good antidote to the inhumanity of the Trump administration.
Jill: Maybe it’s my liberal bias, which is allowed in the Opinion section, but Pence’s Reaganesque conservative talking points about lower taxes and less regulation and more “freedom” seemed ancient and rote to me. And his digs at Biden’s 47 years of public service, well, Pence first ran for Congress in 1988 and 1990 before winning in 2000. If he’d made it the first time, he’d probably have a 32-year government career by now — and he’s more than 15 years younger than Biden.
Pence also confirmed, if anyone doubted it, that he had sold his soul in the devil’s bargain with Trump. Maybe he really thinks it was the Democrats who put the country through hell for three years after the “no obstruction, no collusion, case closed” Russia investigation and tried to impeach the president of the United States “over a phone call.”
Trump has put Americans through hell for five years. If polls can be believed, most of them realize it and plan to end it soon.
David Mastio, a libertarian conservative, is the deputy editor of USA TODAY's Editorial Page. Jill Lawrence, a center-left liberal, is the commentary editor of USA TODAY. Follow them on Twitter @DavidMastio and @JillDLawrence
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vice presidential debate: Trump soldier Pence debates impressive Harris