Even a mild improvement over last week’s punishing-to-watch presidential debate counts as taking a political vacation. Tonight’s vice-presidential scrimmage, however, still carried the residual discomfort of watching one side regularly break the rules and refuse to be reined in.
Granted, being interrupted by Mike Pence probably feels more like being tapped on the shoulder than a Trumpian crowbar to the cheekbone. A more avuncular interruption is still annoying, nonetheless, as is Pence’s frequent flouting of the time restrictions moderator Susan Page attempted to enforce.
No matter how many times the Washington bureau chief for USA Today gently said “Thank you, Mr. Vice President” to get him to stop doing Donald Trump debate-drag, Pence proceeded.
A lot of people watching at home noticed.
Susan Page won’t stop Pence from interrupting and won’t stop Pence from going over time on every single question. What’s the point of even having her there?
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 8, 2020
Hot tip to Susan Page: saying “thank you” over and over to try to get a man to shut up never works.
They really think you’re thanking them.
— Katie Hill (@KatieHill4CA) October 8, 2020
Find someone who loves you the way Mike Pence loves not shutting the fuck up no matter how many times someone asks him to
— one claire, no trenchcoat (@clairewillett) October 8, 2020
Pence kept talking over Page’s polite warnings, while Harris often complied when cut off. Eventually, Page showed some frustration, in what will probably be among the most talked-about moments of the evening, but overall Pence was able to steamroll right over her.
It was a familiar scene. Donald Trump complained that last week’s debate was a case of two against one, with moderator Chris Wallace supposedly on Biden’s side (despite Wallace’s assurances that Trump would “like” certain questions). Wednesday’s debate echoed that dynamic, with the visual of the Republican VP nominee often attempting to rise above both the moderator and his opponent. Because of the gender breakdown of the trio, the arrangement this time came with more than a whiff of misogyny.
#VPdebate moderator Susan Page reacts to Mike Pence repeatedly going over his time in answers: "Your campaign agreed to rules for tonight's debate with the Commission on Presidential Debates. I'm here to enforce them" https://t.co/K93TgPwUao pic.twitter.com/oMBw3MtluR
— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 8, 2020
Driving over six @SusanPage “thank you mr Vice President”s got @Mike_Pence an extra half-minute of unearned time … and after @KamalaHarris demanded equal time she got 45 seconds less … and now he drives over the moderator again. pic.twitter.com/eh1WusKVKQ
— Mark Lukasiewicz (@DeanLuk) October 8, 2020
While Page was mostly compliant over the course of the debate, Kamala Harris refused to surrender herself to suffer the same fate on the world stage. Instead, the former prosecutor used an Olympic judge’s exactitude to literally reclaim her time whenever Pence borrowed some from her without asking.
Harris: Mr Vice President, I’m speaking. I’m speaking pic.twitter.com/Zzn55LJ7sm
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) October 8, 2020
"If you have a preexisting condition — heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer — they're coming for you" — Kamala Harris pic.twitter.com/zNwd6IrKhA
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 8, 2020
Harris’s performance wasn’t perfect, by any stretch. She repeatedly promised Pence and America that she and Biden have no intention of ending fracking, despite the number of voters leaning intractably toward them who would indeed like to see it banned, and conspicuously refused to answer a Pence question about packing the court, in a way that will surely generate negative headlines.
But the performance was a study in contrasts between herself and the man she will serve under if elected. The measured way that she had to keep reiterating that it was her turn to speak, and demanding to be allowed to finish, was a far cry from Biden’s “Will you shut up, man?” (In Biden’s defense, Trump was far more aggressive than Pence.) It was also a contrast, however, with Page’s tendency to use kindness as a cudgel (“thank you, Mr. Vice President”) and far more effective.
And even though Page seemed to apply a sterner tone with her—firmly declaring, “Senator Harris, your time is up,” as though she’d found a battle she knew she could win—Harris’s confident calmness and refusal to kowtow to a serial interrupter are ultimately bound to be remembered most.
Especially in the moment below.
Harris: Joe Biden is responsible for saving America’s auto industry and you voted against it so let’s set the record straight pic.twitter.com/7ue3ENTmKW
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) October 8, 2020
Midway through the debate, Page allowed Harris 15 seconds to rebut an outrageous Pence claim, and Harris used that moment to craft an immaculate, irrefutable gem of a sentence. In taking back the time she was owed, Harris landed a kill shot in stylish, succinct fashion.
And she did it while playing by the agreed-upon rules.