Mike Pence and Kamala Harris are both skilled debaters. And their debate last night was far easier to watch than last week’s presidential debate.
But there was also a problem with the vice-presidential debate: Pence repeatedly made statements that were either misleading or untrue.
Rather than laying out his honest disagreements with Harris and Joe Biden — be they on tax policy, abortion, policing, immigration, the environment, or any number of other issues — Pence misrepresented the Trump administration’s record and Biden’s.
To be clear, both Pence and Harris also engaged in mild overstatement and rhetorical flourishes at times. That’s normal in politics. Harris, for example, exaggerated the job losses that President Trump’s trade war with China has caused. But Pence was far more dishonest. At several points, he seemed to want to run on a record that didn’t exist.
Here’s a partial list:
- “On day one, Joe Biden is going to raise your taxes,” Pence said. This is false: Biden has proposed tax increases only on households making more than $400,000 a year.
Pence said he and Trump had a plan to “protect pre-existing conditions for every American.” The administration has repeatedly attempted to take health insurance away from Americans, and the number of uninsured people has risen during Trump’s presidency.
Pence claimed that Trump had “suspended all travel from China.” He did not. Although Trump claimed to have done so, hundreds of thousands of people traveled from China to the U.S. after the coronavirus appeared.
Pence said the Trump administration would “continue to listen to the science” on climate change. The administration has defied or ignored the views of scientists on climate change.
Pence said Biden would “ban fracking.” Biden would not.
Pence said Trump revered members of the military. In 2015, Trump publicly mocked John McCain because he had been a prisoner during the Vietnam War. More recently, Trump has described Americans soldiers killed in war as “losers” and “suckers,” The Atlantic has reported.
Pence said voting by mail created “a massive opportunity for voter fraud.” This contradicts all of the available evidence and history about mail voting.
Pence said he and Trump have “always” told the American people the truth.
But that is not what Pence did.
A strong moment for each candidate: Harris’s opening remarks, taking the administration to task for the terrible toll of the coronavirus on the U.S.; Pence’s celebrating the Trump administration’s turn to a more hawkish approach to China, which has since become a bipartisan consensus.
Speaking time: Despite the vice president’s repeated interruptions, the two debaters spoke for nearly identical amounts of time over all: almost 36 minutes and 30 seconds.
Questions unanswered: Harris refused to answer Pence’s direct question about whether Democrats would expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court. Pence didn’t answer when the moderator asked him why America’s pandemic death toll is disproportionate to its population and what he would do if Trump refused to accept the election results.
Post-debate instant polls: 59 percent thought Harris won, 38 percent thought Pence won, CNN’s poll found.
An uninvited guest: A fly that landed on Pence’s head for more than two minutes became a star on social media.