Democratic Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris landed quick blows in the first and only VP debate against Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence that got off to a 9 p.m. EST start in Salt Lake City, Utah, with plexiglass separators serving as powerful visual reminders of a uniquely American coronavirus catastrophe.
Dressed in a blue-black pantsuit, Harris kicked off the debate by responding to the first question – predictably on the virus. She termed the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 as “the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.”
“On January, 28, the Vice President and the president were informed about the nature of this pandemic. They were informed that it’s lethal, that it is airborne, that it will affect young people, and that it would be contracted, because it is airborne. And they knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you”, Harris said, punching hard within the first two minutes.
Harris’ goal in this debate, based on her prep team’s vantage point, is twofold: Frame Pence as complicit in Trump’s chaotic response to a deadly pandemic and equally, paint a ‘what if’ scenario of an alternative universe, should the Biden ticket win.
Pence, political obsessors said, will be looking to jump off the sinking Trump ship, get on a lifeboat and bob away to some island where he can hang out till the 2024 election comes around.
VP debates often get lost in the news cycle of presidential politics but this one may end up being different. The political costs are already mounting for Trump, after the first presidential debate and his own COVID-19 diagnosis.
In fact, the Trump campaign chaos has turned this usually muted event into a TV spectacle.
Most of the Biden-Harris weapons going into the VP debate are of Trump’s own making. The US president has morphed into a walking-talking negative ad for his own re-election campaign.
Biden is up 9 points in head to head polling against Trump. Dig a little deeper and Biden has widened his lead in six battlegrounds. A RealClearPolitics average puts the gap at +4.9 for Biden.
With Trump tanking in the polls and the White House shaken by a string of new infections striking its A team, the Democrats are smelling blood and Harris, an aggressive prosecutor, is on the offence.
Everything about this debate is messy for Trump and Pence, it’s all about the coronavirus, 7.5 million Americans are sick, more than 211,000 are dead and it’s all happened on the Trump watch.
Trump spent the last eight months asking Americans to look at shiny objects – the stock market, bleach, hydroxychloroquine, ultraviolet light, tweets, the occasional swipe at immigration and even snuck in a giant photo op tour to the Taj Mahal one full month after he was told that COVID would be his biggest national security challenge ever.
The coronavirus blew up all those balloons and infiltrated the White House with 31 days to go before the US election 2020. Given that backdrop, Harris’ 101 is to do the political version of the Hippa oath: Do no harm to the Biden ticket.
But clearly, Harris has set her sights a few notches above.
And, there’s the matter of the plexiglass – an unlikely rockstar in the VP debate, making its debut in America’s presidential debates. Harris’ team requested they be used, Pence’s team kicked and screamed and gave in.
Harris is not budging from the high ground of public health policy during America’s worst public health emergency.
The trickiest terrain for Pence is coronavirus. Trump crowned him as the leader of the coronavirus task force. Until Trump got sick, Pence could do his thing while Trump did his gig.
If Harris makes Pence answer for Trump and Pence refuses, he’ll have to answer for himself. Either way, there’s no running away from 211,000 Americans dead and still counting.
Health experts have been going red in the face saying the virus will decide everything. So it goes with this debate.
“I’d rather have a vacuum cleaner for my president. Anybody but Trump!”, Alexander Pickard, a Manhattan based voter, told IANS.