VP debate brings back normal politics

Photos: Robyn Beck, Eric Baradat/AFP via Gety Images

Toward the end, the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City got personal — about President Trump, a reminder of what this election will ultimately come down to.

Sen. Kamala Harris flashed back to last week's raucous presidential debate, arguing that Trump's "stand back and stand by" answer to a question about white supremacists "is part of a pattern."

  • She brought up Trump's response to "Neo-Nazis carrying tiki torches shouting racial epithets" in Charlottesville in 2017.
  • "This is who we have as the president of the United States, and America, you deserve better," the California senator said. "Joe Biden will be a president who brings our country together and recognizes the beauty in our diversity."

Vice President Pence responded by sketching a very different worldview.

  • Pence told the moderator, USA Today's Susan Page: "I think this is one of the things that makes people dislike the media so much in this country, Susan, is that you selectively edit — just like Sen. Harris did — comments that President Trump and I and others on our side of the aisle make."
  • Turning to Harris, he said: "You're concerned that he doesn’t condemn Neo-Nazis? President Trump has Jewish grandchildren."
  • Later, Pence said directly to viewers: "Don't assume that what you're seeing on your local news networks is synonymous with the American people."

Harris' advisers studied research about the different ways men and women are judged in public speaking. The former California attorney general repeatedly stood up for herself:

  • "Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking. I’m speaking. Kay?"
  • "I will not sit here and be lectured by the vice president on what it means to enforce the laws of our country. I am the only one on this stage who has personally prosecuted everything from child sexual assault to homicide."

Takeaways from White House editor Margaret Talev and other Axios journalists:

  1. No daylight between Pence and Trump: Pence gave credit to Trump's leadership several times, and defended the largely mask-less Rose Garden event for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Pence said it was an outdoor event, with many attendees tested for coronavirus, then added: "President Trump and I trust the American people to make choices in the best interest of their health."
  2. Harris didn't rule out trying to add justices to the Supreme Court. Pence said: "The straight answer is: They are going to pack the Supreme Court if they somehow win this election."
  3. Both Pence and Harris dodged efforts to pin down unknown positions, from China to climate change.
  4. Both ignored a question about whether they have had a conversation with Trump or Biden about safeguards or procedures when it comes to the issue of presidential disability.

The bottom line: It was more polite than Trump vs. Biden. But we didn't learn a lot more.

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