The Wednesday night debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris will be the most significant of its kind since the vice president’s discussions began 40 years ago. While the VP debates see less fanfare than the sparring matches at the top of the ticket, the 2020 races and unique events surrounding them make the Pence Harris showdown especially worthy of publication.
As the president lies at Walter Reed Hospital, fighting a virus that has already killed 210,000 Americans, we remember that the Vice President is a heartbeat away from the presidency. Looking at the experiences of some of the COVID-19 patients, often referred to as “long-distance travelers,” questions about presidential impotence have taken center stage.
Vice president discussions tend to be boring events that focus on how best a candidate could help the president if elected and what kinds of policies the administration would pursue. In the background of these discussions, there is always the recognition that any individual must be ready to become president, if his ticket works. However, the 2020 race presents us with the oldest presidential candidates in American history. One of them is currently in a serious health crisis – President Donald Trump – and the other one who dealt with a series of health challenges in the 1980s – former Vice President Joe Biden. Whether Mr Trump is reelected or Biden wins next month, they will take an oath during a deadly pandemic that has proven particularly dangerous for older men. Americans will be watching the Vice President’s debate with a renewed awareness that one of these people could easily become president – not because they ran for the job but because they succeeded in the job.
The Vice President’s discussion will take place in a largely empty room on the University of Utah campus. Candidates will be diverged significantly – more than usual. They will be banned from traditional physical contact: shaking hands before and after discussion and taking pictures side by side for posterity. But the discussion moderator, Susan Page, will also likely feed the candidates a series of questions that focus – more than ever – on succession, health and wellness, and 25The tenth Modify. While an open discussion of a helpless or dead president may seem appalling, Mr. Trump and Biden’s age and health history demand it.
In a regular election year, vice presidential candidates often use the dogs of the presidential candidates, and there will definitely be a lot of attacks and criticism during the debate. However, this is not an ordinary year. While vice presidential candidates always want to show off the presidential aura and leadership in the debate, this approach is all the more important on Wednesday night. It will be important for both candidates to move away from the outright political war and focus on the official reality of a country with a sick president facing multiple other crises.
Vice President Pence has to do well. His personality, as we have seen in his press conferences on COVID-19, is calm, controlling, and persistent. Those are the qualities that will aid him in setting the discussion. Yet his presence and rhetoric often exude a sense of “man’s yes” under an authoritarian president. Calm, calm and collected will play well in the debate, not obedient and paranoid. Not only must he appear ready to take over the helm if necessary, he must also show himself to be able to be a powerful captain in his own right, and ready to command his own ship. This would be a departure from Mister Pence – as it is for any vice president. This challenge is exacerbated by the need to walk a fine line between displaying personal strength and not the rattling of a cautious, paranoid boss feared by any of his teammates.
For Mrs. Harris, who has shown herself as an effective and robust debate during the primaries, it is important to review an approach that worked for her in the summer and fall. Its diligent and litigating approach to settling candidates – including Mr. Biden – demonstrated its strength in the political arena. Now, her challenge is to move away from Kamala Harris, the attorney general, and toward Kamala Harris, the president. It would be important for her to focus on issues that she deeply cared about and would follow her as president. Part of the discussion will focus on how it would help Mr. Biden if elected president. But the debate must also show who you will be in Mr. Biden’s absence. While America loves a fighter who can match anyone in the political arena (an even more important trait for a candidate running in a country with large and lingering gender biases), what America needs now is a steady, strong, passionate leader ready to rule independently.
In many ways, Mr. Pence and Mrs. Harris are uniquely suited to do what the President could not do in the first debate: to be adults in the room and demonstrate strength and compassion at the same time. As parents – mr. Pence was elated when discussing his daughter’s accomplishments, and Mrs. Harris embraced the nickname “Mamala” when discussing her husband’s children – all of them can be the father of the nation, ready to help when they see conflict. Both VP nominees can be for the nation the same as they are for their family: rock firm and confident.
Mr. Pence and Mrs. Harris have the opportunity to do something the former President and Vice President did not do last week: to be the presidential candidates America wants and needs now. That’s crucially true this week with a renewed focus on one fact: Someone might be president sooner than planned.