What’s Left: VP Debate

Last Tuesday, America witnessed the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. The debate, a tragic allegory of the backsliding of American liberal democracy, saw Trump’s most pugnacious public performance thus far. Major media outlets reacted with mock surprise at the extent to which the President contravened the debate’s rules, while critics and journalists noted that this was by far the most chaotic televised debate in American history. But what’s far more important than Trump’s puerile attitude during the debate was his transparent lack of the very confidence and swagger that propelled him to the top of the political arena four years ago. His usual cocky demeanor was missing, and his interruptions seemed to stem from a place of insecurity and anxiety. The debate was largely considered a Biden win, and his lead over Trump widened in the days that followed. 

Last week’s vice presidential debate was much more disciplined than the circus that occurred one week prior with the presidential candidates, and it gave the American people some clarity as to the policy positions of the two campaigns. Both vice-presidential candidates were under additional scrutiny, as the President remained infirm with COVID-19, and both he and Vice President Biden would become the oldest men ever to assume the presidency. Vice President Pence, for his part, delivered an authoritative defense of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, spoke passionately about his opposition to abortion and emphasized his administration’s efforts to counter unfair Chinese trade practices. He attacked Senator Harris as being an instrument of the far-left and accused the Democratic ticket of supporting the Green New Deal. 

Senator Harris held her ground, attacking the administration on its coronavirus response, or rather, lack thereof. She criticized the President for his avoidance of income taxes and rebuked the Republican ticket on its failure to address climate change. Harris pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, reiterated her pro-choice position and promised that a Biden-Harris administration would not raise taxes on families making under $400,000 per year.

On the surface, this week’s vice presidential debate seemed much more substantive than the first Trump-Biden debate, but in many ways, the vice presidential debate was just a toned-down version of the first.

While the candidates discussed their policy standpoints, both Senator Harris and Vice President Pence dodged virtually every meaningful question and at times it seemed like both attempted to emulate their running mates. Pence repeatedly tried and failed to copy his boss and interrupt Harris, while Senator Harris kept referring to “Joe” and the lessons that she has learned from him. The Vice President avoided a question about climate change by declaring that “the climate is changing,” while Senator Harris responded to a question about court-packing by telling a story about Abraham Lincoln. They were both acting in the context of Trump’s massive polling deficit and, in a way, both were situating themselves for 2024.

One thing remains clear: President Trump is losing this election. Gone is the 2016 underdog, the man who lived for the crowds and had nothing to lose. In his place is a depressed, miserable incumbent, unable to turn the tide of the election or even attract his prized “big crowds” to his rallies. Time is now running out, and even his running mate appears to be gearing himself up for a career after Trump’s loss. Republicans up and down the ticket are distancing themselves from Trump. Some Republican senators are even campaigning in terms of an imminent Biden presidency. As we approach Nov. 3, Trump simply has no choice but to sow more discord and chaos. After all this time, he has no way out.