Taking a lead from South Carolina Senate candidate Jaime Harrison, both candidates sat behind plexiglass barriers as they took on issues such as the one that Harrison brought to his debate with Senator Lindsey Graham.
Moderated by Susan Page of USA Today, the debate was less of a hot mess than the first presidential debate, but it was still quite messy as Page struggled to keep the candidates, especially Pence, on time and on topic. With all the pleas to respect time and question evading (and that fly), it was easy to miss some of the most important points from the debate.
Here are 10 moments you may have missed:
1. Senator Harris indicts the Trump-Pence Administration.
I’ve watched enough episodes of Law and Order to know an opening argument when I hear one. Senator Harris clearly came prepared to prosecute the Trump-Pence Administration, and the opening question about COVID-19 gave her the perfect opportunity to do so. Showing off her years of prosecutorial skill, Harris opened by calling the administration’s COVID-19 response “the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.”
To show that this was not just big talk, she then laid out the receipts: 210,000 people dead, 7 million having contracted the virus, 1 in 5 American businesses closed, 30 million people filing for unemployment. After laying out the case that the administration not only failed in tackling the coronavirus but also lied about it, Harris brought her argument home:
“This administration has forfeited their right to re-election.”
2. Pence dodges the questions.
Page opened up her second topic of the night by asking Pence if he had discussed the possibility with President Trump that he could suffer some sort of disability that would leave him unable to serve. Pence completely disregarded the question, instead returning to the previous conversation about a COVID vaccine and making a bad argument about the Obama-Biden administration’s handling of H1N1 or Swine flu. It was the first of many times that Pence would evade or simply ignore the question at hand.
3. So much talk about fracking.
Look, fracking is important and many people care about it. Some people even know what it is. (I always have to Google it). But Mike Pence attacked Biden and Harris on their policy toward fracking so many times. If fracking policy is your strongest argument against your opponent, you’re probably not winning the debate.
4. Packing the courts -- watch Harris flip it and reverse it.
On the other hand, this is how to pivot a question. Pressed by Pence on whether a Biden-Harris Administration would pack the Supreme Court with liberal judges, Harris flipped the question to the lack of diversity in federal judges appointed under the Trump-Pence administration.
5. Harris stumbles when talking about Breonna Taylor
When Page asked if justice was done in Breonna Taylor’s case, Harris could have come out strong here. Instead, the beginning of her answer – “I don’t believe so” – was oddly passive.
The rest of the discussion was slightly better, speaking about Harris meeting with Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, and about the beauty of Taylor’s life before it was cut short. But the whole response felt oddly safe. Perhaps Harris calculated that as a Black woman, she had to scale back her expression of anger and outrage? Even so, the discussion felt like a missed opportunity. Of course, Harris’ answer still stood in sharp contrast to Pence’s response.
6. The Fly. The Fly!
Twitter lost its mind over the fly that decided to make Mike Pence’s head its new home. Showing up during an important moment (more on that below), the fly ended up being the star of the night.
“They Fly on Mike Pence’s Head” is already the name of several Twitter accounts.
Hello new followers. Yes, I am the News Editor for The Root. You are going to get some of everything on this timeline. I talk about current events, pop culture, race matters and dick.
— The Fly on Mike Pence's Head (@thejournalista) July 3, 2020
BUZZ BUZZ! VOTE!
— The Fly On Mike Pence's Head (@pierrederecho) October 8, 2020
News agencies clocked the fly’s total screen time down to the second (it chilled atop Mike Pence’s hair for 2 minutes and 3 seconds).
— The New York Times (@nytimes) October 8, 2020
Biden himself got in on the fly fun:
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 8, 2020
The Biden campaign even rushed to purchase FlyWillVote.com which leads to the website I Will Vote.
7. Pence is a racism-denier.
Lost in the entertainment of the fly was the fact that it landed on the Vice President just as he was answering the Taylor question by arguing that systemic racism and implicit bias did not exist. It stayed put as Pence name-dropped Senator Tim Scott (every Republican’s Black friend), chastised Harris for not supporting Scott’s version of law enforcement reform, and talked about “supporting our African American neighbors and all our minorities.”
Looks like flies really are attracted to bulls**t.
8. Harris to Pence: Please allow me to reintroduce myself.
Pence’s criticism of Senator Harris on racial justice was a striking combination of mansplaining and whitesplaining, and the former Attorney General of California was not having it. Coming immediately after Senator Harris’ worst moment of the night, Pence’s remarks set up Harris’ best moment. “I will not sit here and be lectured by the Vice President on what it means to enforce the laws of our country,” she explained, before laying out her career and policies in order to remind the vice president just who he was talking to.
9. Pence is as dangerous as his boss.
Just because Pence was more polite than Trump does not mean he wasn’t incredibly reckless and dangerous. Like Trump, Pence refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if his side loses in November while trotting out old conspiracy theories about the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton. With Trump already sowing mistrust in the results of the election and calling on white supremacists like the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” Trump and Pence are both increasing the possibility of chaos and even violence after this election.
10. "I'm Speaking."
This clip of Senator Harris from early in the debate says it all. The precision with which she cuts apart Pence’s defense of his administration’s handling of COVID-19. The head tilt. The talk-to-the-hand motion.
“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking. I’m speaking," the veep candidate said.
In short, Senator Kamala Harris Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit.