Chat Transcript: Breaking down the VP debate

Oct 08, 2020

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With the debate between Mike Pence and Kamala D Harris in the books, it's time to talk about what happened and whether it changed anything. 

Aaron Blake didn't see any massive moments that are likely to. (His takeaways are here.) But it gave us plenty to discuss on policy — court packing, anyone? 
What did you think? Get your questions in now and we'll chat live at Noon.

What does like mean for women Vs men?? Like women she could be my friend?? Like for men he could be my friend?? Like I could do business or work and trust either one not to cheat me? Like???? Heck I don't like either my senator or congress rep because I don't KNOW them well enough to like or dislike them. Extending trust to do what is right and moral is another question.

You're wondering about why it's gendered language to describe a woman as running for office as likable or not likable, which I wrote about today. (Trump and many a Fox News analyst said Kamala Harris wasn't likable at last night's debate.)

Research shows that women running for office have to prove they're likable to get votes, whereas voters can vote for a man they don't necessarily like. And as you point out, it's a highly subjective term, which makes it impossible to pin down -- and thus is an easy, sexist way to dismiss a woman in the public eye. "Oh, she's not likable." You just don't hear that about a man because our society says they don't have to be.

It is also worth keeping in mind that candidate perceptions have rarely been a good predictor of election outcomes.

How can we get effective moderators who will enforce the time limit, or give a 15-second warning, or something more effective than in these first two debates. The offender(s) need to be called out more and more forcefully, IMHO.

I think this is a common question among many viewers this year. I will say that it might be difficult for reporters to tell politicians to stop speaking, because that is the exact opposite of what journalists want from politicians. We tend to want them to talk as much as possible. But in this format, that approach seems to be working for no one. So maybe the best decision moving forward is to bring in people who are used to shutting down conflict more than reporters used to making sure that politicians are heard. 

Why did Trump suddenly cancel (and then maybe "uncancel") the Stimulus negotiations? Doesn't this just cast him as unstable, throw away his edge on the one issue in which he is seen favorably, and inflicts a blow to the campaigns for the Republicans running for Congress?

It's certainly a questionable strategy -- to cast yourself as the one shutting down negotiation -- but to the extent they are eventually resumed, I'm not sure it will have a lasting impact. It's also very much par-for-course for Trump. Remember when he proactively welcomed the blame for shutting down the government?

Well, and then polls show he did get blamed for that government shutdown.

I'll add that if he was trying to play hardball with Nancy Pelosi again -- he doesn't have a great track record on that. (See: the shutdown.)

Does it get cancelled? Does Biden get to just do a free town hall spending lots of time saying, "the president would say [x] but that is a lie" all the time? Can he bring Harris with him? I mean, I expect that this is just a negotiating tactic by the president, but he has been known to take the negotiating tactics so far that he gets stuck with them. I would think that an opportunity to do a debate from the Oval Office or the public rooms of the West Wing would be a great look for a sitting president.

It's currently not clear what will happen as news about the changes to the debate -- format and attendance -- are only a few hours old. But it will be interesting to see how each campaign uses the time set aside for a debate to connect with American voters still interested in hearing from the major party leaders about their vision for America moving forward. 

How does that help Trump? And is he planning on doing a rally instead? I recall he did that once during the 2016 primary...and if he does..what will the net works do?

I wouldn't rule out that he ultimately decides to take part. He quite simply needs the debate more than Biden. As with his stimulus ploy, this feels more like applying pressure to get his way. But I'm not sure how the commission could reverse itself now that it has said holding the debate in-person wouldn't be safe.

Do you think he'll change his mind?

Total speculation: I'd say 55% chance he still takes part.

How can a committee hold hearings when the Senate is in recess?

George Washington University political science professor Sarah Binder had a good explainer on the Senate rules on this topic earlier this week.

In short, committees can meet and hold hearings, even when the Senate is in recess. And while the absence of some senators infected with the coronavirus might complicate the confirmation vote procedure, ultimately there is still little that Democrats can do to prevent the expected confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Why in the world didn't Harris rebut Pence's fishing expedition about adding more justices by pointing out the GOP flipped then flopped on their own "rule" within the space of four years? They're in no position to prattle about tradition.

I don't have a specific answer on her strategy. But I think Democrats used that argument -- Republicans are pushing through a Supreme Court nominee in an election year when they said four years ago they shouldn't -- and it didn't stop the confirmation from going ahead. So, now they're focused on talking about the ramifications of a super conservative court on people's lives, most predominantly, health care. The problem for Democrats is, even if that gets people out to vote, there's not a lot of anything they can do to stop the Supreme Court from potentially striking down Obamacare. That case is being heard in November. And I'm not sure I see a ton of Democratic momentum anymore, should they win back Washington, to pack the court. 

If the next debate is virtual, does that mean Joe Biden, Donald Trump and Steve Scully all have to hear Jamiroquai hats?

Wow, I just went from not having thought of Jamiroquai in like 20 years to certainty I won't get that song out of my head in the next week. Thanks for that? 

Last night, Pence kept talking past his time and ignoring the moderator when she stated that his time elapsed. Once or twice was understandable, but the fact that it happened on almost every single question seemed to send the impression that the rules did not apply to him. I think that took away from an otherwise solid performance (even though he obfuscated and rarely answered the questions asked). Was I the only person who felt this way?

Others commenting on social media and in my group chats felt similarly to you that his ignoring the moderator communicated a clear message: Pence (like Trump) operates by his own rules. And that was off-putting to voters already disappointed with the Trump administration. Pence had an opportunity to win over undecided voters looking for a softer, kinder side to the Trump administration, but I'm not sure that the vice president gave them anything to make them think differently -- and if anything, some voters who previously had no negative opinions of him walked away with a negative impression of him.

Didn't President Carter not show to one in 1980 so Ronald Reagan got it all to himself?

You are partially correct: There were two presidential debates in 1980 and Jimmy Carter refused to attend the first debate because he did not want a three-way debate with Independent candidate John Anderson. Anderson was not invited to the second debate, which became the only debate that Carter and Reagan had that cycle.

Assuming that Trump loses, what do you think will happen in the lame duck period? Will we see the Trump Administration working with Biden to enact a stimulus plan, or do you think that Trump would be intransigent and refuse to consider this as a way of "punishing" the voters?

I didn't predict that the president would pull the plug on coronavirus relief talks -- though he's now trying to walk that back some and get help for airlines. It was perplexing from the perspective of Republican members of Congress in vulnerable races, and from the perspective of mainstream economists.

Congress is a little easier to predict. We talk a lot about the politics of a stimulus, but there's also the policy. Many a lawmaker genuinely wants to get help to struggling Americans. So from the perspective of the election being over, I could see more movement in Congress to actually get a deal.

But is that true? I remember the "likeability" factor being applied to Mitt Romney during his presidential campaign. In fact, Aaron Blake wrote this in The Fix at the time: "If Romney were a more likeable candidate, then, he would probably be performing better in early polls of a very winnable race. Likability has been perhaps the one missing link for a guy with the look, the moderate credentials and the money to get it done." And this: "But through it all, it’s become pretty clear: Romney is not a teddy bear that people want to hug. He’s not a guy most people want to have a beer with."

What men receive on this is nowhere near the degree for what women receive, on a daily basis. Just look at the volume of criticism from last night directed at Harris and her facial expressions -- rather than her words -- and what that said about her likability. And the research, mostly by the nonpartisan Barbara Lee Family Foundation, is clear: Voters will cast a ballot for a guy they don't like. They won't typically for a man.

Pence's refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power was deeply disturbing. Given the current dynamics of the race, asserting that his ticket would win was questionable at best. His failure to assent to continuing an important dramatic tradition bodes ill for the country.

What was made clear by Mike Pence's answer to the question about a peaceful transition of power is that any concerns Americans have about how Donald Trump would respond if he does not win the election should be extended to Mike Pence. With each new answer or comment on this issue, America's current leaders appear to be leaving more room for the possibility that a smooth transition from a Trump presidency to a Biden one might be more unlikely than likely.

The problem with the electoral college is we spend 10x more time talking about fracking to please some folks in Pennsylvania than we do the entire west coast being on fire.

And ethanol thanks to Iowa. The thing is, you can do the electoral college without having each state be winner-take-all, but states are motivated to go winner-take-all so that they can get attention. (Nobody wants to campaign over a couple electoral votes in PA, knowing it will be a pretty even split.)

Fracking is also a job creator in Ohio, Texas, parts of New Mexico (where there's a competitive House race going on.) 

How do we know--absolutely--that the President has Coronavirus? It is very convenient that he now has it. It guarantees many of his core personal needs and improves his chances in the election. Covid gives him: 1 - limits debate and rallies, thus public rantings. 2. daily focus in the local and world news, and 3 - world-wide sympathy and concern.

Hi there,

Thanks for writing in. There is absolutely no reason to question the president's illness. He had to be hospitalized for it. 

And I would actually argue that getting sick now is extraordinarily unhelpful to him. He loves doing those rallies; they're energizing. (He's never been one for discipline.) He can find plenty of ways to stay in the news that don't involve "faking" a sickness. And finally, an outbreak at the White House just looks bad for him, bringing home Democrats' criticism that the president and his administration have been unable to bring the virus under control. 

The people in the Frank Luntz's focus group of undecided voters didn't sound very undecided to me. They sounded like people who want to vote for Donald Trump, but do it in a way that isn't racist or sexist.

It's always difficult to find true undecideds, especially when people want to be on TV. The NBC town hall with Biden this week was also criticized for not having true undecideds, too.

I'm just curious: should the Democrats harp less on the actual confirmation vis a vis Garland as no Republican met with him and no committee hearings were held? Now they want to jam one through.

Some Republican senators did meet with Garland in 2016.

But you are correct that Democrats plan to focus a significant part of their criticism of the Barrett nomination on the process, given there is little-t0-nothing that Democrats can do to prevent her from being confirmed to the Supreme Court before the November elections.

The RCP poll aggregator says that Trump is doing about 0.5% better in battleground state polling than he did in 2016. What, if anything, does that tell you about the state of the race?

You mean relative to his national polling? It may just be statistical noise. It also could reflect the lack of polling in many of the key states in 2016; we don't have that this time.

What go you think of the legislature creating a commission to investigate irregularities regarding the election? Is this setting the stage for a battle to invalidate the votes in that state?

It certainly raised eyebrows among Democrats and some election watchers. Especially since if there were a chaotic election where we didn't know results, the GOP-led legislature in a swing state like Pennsylvania could step in and try to pass an emergency law declaring where those states' electors should go. 

I'm not saying that's likely, but if we're talking about far-fetched "it could happen" situations, that's one of them. 

And I don't just mean the hostile raccoons. Buzzfeed pulled their reporter from WH press briefings and several regular WH reporters have been diagnosed with Covid. Has the WHCA weighed in on the lack of safety precautions to protect news media? What about other media organizations? (My son is a dentist and he has added an incredible amount of protective equipment and procedures to protect his staff and patients. Why shouldn't the WH have to do the same?)

Yes, the White House Correspondents' Association has repeatedly pressed the White House to improve its safety precautions and protocols, and this week some White House reporters have become increasingly vocal about the lack of safety protocols at the White House.

So many times with Donald Trump change his mind on participating in the TV debate?

It is worth noting that it is possible that he might be convinced to change his mind again about the debate after consulting his team or himself. But in his explanation for not wanting to participate, he mentioned his frustration with moderators attempting to cut him off -- something he didn't like, but honestly needed, based on the rules. At a rally, Trump is free to do something that many of his critics believe he does best: ramble without pushback or real time fact-checking.

So I'm relatively new to South Carolina politics but I'm having trouble believing the polling about Jaime Harrison's chances. I think he's great. I loved his quips in the debate about "Maybe the first step in working with the other side is to not call them nuts." But South Carolinian's aren't going to split their ticket and I don't see there being enough registered Democrats to overtake Graham. South Carolinians (in general) might not like Graham, but they like him better than most Democrats. Am I totally off in not trusting these polls?

It's hard to believe, isn't it, polls showing basically a tied statewide race in South Carolina, of all places.

I spent a good deal yesterday talking to strategists on both sides of this race. I think we should believe that it's a toss up race -- which means the polls are onto something. There are a couple factors. Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R) embrace of Trump has come off as hypocritical to independent voters there. Jaime Harrison is just a strong candidate who has motivated Democrats -- early voting lines there now are unlike anything longtime South Carolina politicos have ever seen -- and he's raised millions to be able to define himself before Graham or Republicans could. Now Republicans are putting a precious $10M to shore up Graham. It's just a remarkable race.

Still, I agree with you that while the race is close, it's going to be difficult for Harrison to get a majority of the vote and actually win. There just might not be enough Democratic-leaning voters in the state.

His refusal to debate virtually, his claim of not being contagious, his insistence on holding live rallies without social distancing--what kind of idiots does he take the American people for? And karen Pence appearing without a mask at the end of last night's debate is just the cherry on top of this lethal sundae.

Personally, I don't think Trump is trying to lose. Nor do I believe that he wants to lose. It appears to me that he wants to win but he wants to do it on his terms and his way without being corrected, called out or challenged by anyone -- supporters alike. The circle of advisers that Trump listens to is much smaller than usual for a president and few (if any) of them appear to have enough influence to effectively convince him to make decisions that differ from his initial impulses. 

How are things looking right now for a possible flip? Are Mississippi, Alaska, SC, and Kansas really in play? Certainly Cunningham's issues in NC aren't helping, but is that breaking through to NC voters?

I'm putting rankings out tomorrow!

Mississippi: No

Alaska and Kansas: Could flip under the right conditions, a really really big Democratic wave

South Carolina: See an answer I just wrote above. This is a legit race. 

North Carolina: An affair is the last thing Democrats needed in their battle for the majority, since this could be the race that decides it for them. But it's not clear yet what impact it has. Partisanship is a powerful motivator!

So for it to be a repeat of 1980 standard, does that mean Kanye West has to go to the virtual debate?

More likely Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian nominee. That would certainly make things pretty interesting. But she's nowhere near the threshold, unlike Anderson in '80.

So how many questions or comments are you ignoring about houseflies?

About 60.

I think it highly likely that Biden-Harris does not want to increase the membership of the Supreme Court, but is not ready to rule it out completely. How would a "unlikely, but maybe" statement go over with the media?

1. They rightly worry this is too radical an idea, but they know prominent members of their base want it, so they're punting.

2. Even if this is the plan, I'm not sure what the wisdom is of previewing it while the GOP still controls the Senate. If you declare your intention, what's to stop Trump and McConnell, if the GOP holds on to both the Senate and presidency, from doing it and saying Democrats declared it fair game?

I understand that the Supreme Court will hear a case on the affordable care Act and as it stands probably declare it unconstitutional sometime next year. Is there any path for either party to somehow come up with a solution before that happens?

Good question. First, we don't know what the court will decide.

Second, to your question about both parties doing something: Probably not, since the court is going to hear the case a week after the election (though we won't get their decision till this summer probably). 

But there's a pandemic and economic crisis to legislate. And Biden hasn't said what he would do if the court knocked down the law, likely knowing that opening up a conversation about health care is a whole can of worms he doesn't want to right now, since that's the quintessential split in the Democratic Party these days. 

Why doesn't Pelosi call off the stimulus talks? Or I guess not negotiate down from what she wants and blame the other side for not agreeing? Politically, it seems Trump needs to get something done much more than Democrats do.

Vulnerable House Democrats are under pressure to find a deal on coronavirus relief legislation as well and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is trying to protect those members, in part, by showing that Democrats are ready to negotiate. But you are correct that both sides to a certain extent are vulnerable politically if they do not reach a deal, or at least look like they are not trying to reach a deal.

If Donald Trump wins another term, don't we just have throw out all polling?

Have more faith in polling! It will or would reflect a tightening of the race in key states as this gets closer.

So long as Ted Cruz is an elected official, don't want to hear about how men also have to be likable.

As Lindsey Graham once said, "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you."

I'm surprised you only think there's a 55% chance Trump will participate in the next debate. I would guess it's more like 99.9%. Just like he reversed himself about not negotiating a COVID relief deal when he saw this caused the markets to drop. When Trump realizes the majority of people will see that he's the one backing out, he'll agree to it.

Maybe! But he also makes lots of curious political calculations, and sometimes he just goes with his gut, despite what advisers might tell him.

Spot-on analysis this morning by Amber about Harris' "like-ability." She was smiling and smirking a lot, but not nearly as much as Joe was in his debate, and I don't remember reading or hearing a peep about him the next day. And in any case, it was leaps and bounds less off-putting than Pence's condescension to both Harris and Page, which the talking heads are calling "strong" today. Can you imagine what they'd be calling Harris if she had repeatedly talked over a moderator like he did and "woman-splained" Pence? It wouldn't be pretty.

And a Black woman in particular has extra weight on her shoulders not to appear "angry." 

Why isn't there a desire to have a requirement that the candidates be honest? If not, they get called out on it by the moderator or an independent party. Perhaps there is a penalty if one goes over a certain amount. Yes, folks can argue about what is honest and there needs to be a way to do it without breaking up the flow. But honesty matters in both the short and long runs for success. The end goal for most folks is success so let's aim for it.

I'm not sure how one would police this. It has been difficult, if not impossible, for journalists to keep candidates on both sides of the aisle 100 percent honest since they launched their campaigns. Making sure that they stick to a moderator's standard of truthfulness at this point in the election almost seems impossible -- especially on the issues where there is disagreement about what is honest and what is not.

what are independents/undecided saying to that?

CNN's snap poll showed they favored Harris 63-31.

A little under 4 weeks away from election day, where does the Race for the Senate and the Presidential Race stand?

I cannot believe it's almost mid October. July felt like yesterday.

Presidential: Joe Biden is expanding his lead in key swing states as Trump struggles with women in particular, especially White women.

Senate: Democrats are seeing the momentum go their way in these final weeks, but it's going to be close, like it always was going to be.

And you didn't ask this, but I'll add that Democrats' majority for the House is safe. Republicans might pick up a few seats, but so might Democrats.

Are you surprised at the fact that Harris didn't try to nail down Pence on his past calls to overturn Roe v Wade? And do you think Democrats will try to do that to their opponents throughout the country over the next month?

Yes, but it seems nobody really wants to talk about Roe v. Wade right now, as I wrote today.

Trump has generally been obsessed with numerical measures (crowd size, tv ratings) and I would love to know what his internal campaign polls are showing these days, especially in the crucial swing states. And how this is affecting his behavior.

Remember when he fired pollsters after he was given some numbers he didn't like? There is also plenty of evidence that aides insulate him from bad news (like on Russia), so I wouldn't be surprised if they don't show him everything.

What if too many Republican Senators are quarantined due to Covid-19? Doesn't the Senate confirmation vote need to be in person?

Yes, senators need to be in the Senate chamber for the final confirmation vote, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could push for a bipartisan proposal (that he previously opposed) to allow for remote voting. Or if senators are infected with the coronavirus, they could simply ignore health protocols and show up to vote on the nomination.

Any way that either one loses reelection to the House?

I guess with Nunes it's at least CONCEIVABLE (he's in a Trump +10 district). Not so much McCarthy (Trump +22).

Another example of likability. I remember hearing on the radio when driving home from work that Bush was the one some voters would like to have a beer with. It surprised me at the time, but I could see why later. I despised Bush's policies, did not vote for him, but did 'like' him. I think it was his sense of humor -- Gore didn't seem to have one.

It's different when you're comparing two men versus a man and a woman. Also, I'm not saying all men who get elected are jerks and all the women are likable; I'm saying that it's not a consistent measure voters use for men as they do for women. 

Trump experiences a relapse of serious Covid symptoms during the next few weeks?

It would scare the beejezus out of the nation, the economy, the world. That was scary having a president hospitalized for a serious, deadly virus -- and not having clear and consistent information on what was happening and how he was feeling.

I expect there’s a good chance Trump’s health will take a turn for the worse over the next week. But what if it doesn’t? Three days in the hospital and he’s cured? Shouldn’t there be more focus on the treatment he received and how we can replicate that for others?

There is still a lot we don't know about President Trump's illness and its possible severity. But to your point, Regeneron on Wednesday submitted an application to the FDA for emergency approval of the cocktail that Trump was given.

In those 'Republican Party post-Trump' hot takes assume that Donald Trump is going anywhere and will be silence or cowed if he doesn't win another term this time?

He would still be around. He'd probably even talk about running again. Republicans won't just be able to move on immediately or completely distance themselves from his movement. And you see that recognized by the likes of Nikki Haley these days. She had a brand that couldn't been distinct from Trump's, but she's hewed closer to his style.

He might want to change hair products, to something that doesn't attract flies. Right?

Not sure what it was exactly that attracted that fly -- and what allowed it to stay for so long. But it certainly added some levity to a debate where people on both sides were getting frustrated with how things were going -- and will likely continue to go these next few weeks.

Thanks for taking our questions. We'll see you next week, apparently not to talk about a debate? Who knows, but there's sure to be plenty to discuss. See you then! 

In This Chat
Amber Phillips
Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan.
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Hill newspaper.
Eugene Scott
Eugene Scott writes about identity politics for The Fix. He was recently a fellow at the Georgetown University Institute of Politics. And prior to joining the Post, he was a breaking news reporter at CNN Politics.
JM Rieger
JM Rieger is the video editor for The Fix, covering national politics. He joined The Washington Post in 2018. Previously, Rieger worked as a video producer covering national politics for HuffPost. He began his career as a video editor covering Congress for Roll Call.
Natalie Jennings
Natalie Jennings is editor of The Fix. She has been at The Washington Post since 2010 and was previously a senior producer for Post Video.
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