The vice presidential debate Wednesday night was a draw: Vice President Mike Pence completely dodged difficult questions, and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris –and moderator Susan Page— let him. The winner was a random insect that landed prominently on top of Pence’s head and, unbeknownst to Pence, distracted the television audience from whatever the vice president was rambling on about over his allotted time.
“The fly got better reviews than the cloying, smarmy condescending performance of Mike Pence,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida.
Lori Lightfoot, Chicago’s lesbian mayor, posted on Twitter that Harris “brilliantly laid down the hammer on the failed leadership” of Trump. But others said Harris failed to push back at Pence on his claims that she and Biden were planning to “stack the court” with liberals and want to “change the rules” around who should get to nominate a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
After completely ignoring two questions from the moderator, Pence, in a moment of unself-conscious irony, asked that “the record show” that Harris failed to answer a question.
Later, Pence claimed not to know what Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, thinks about abortion. President Trump has always made clear that being anti-abortion is a key factor in making his pick.
“Mike Pence is someone who is comfortable saying things that are utterly false with a completely straight face,” said Pete Buttigieg to MSNBC.
Buttigieg, who was a strong contender for the Democratic presidential nomination himself, helped Harris prepare for the vice presidential debate. He debated her in practice sessions, serving as a surrogate for Pence. Buttigieg is not only a proven debater himself, but, as former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is familiar with Pence, the former governor of Indiana.
Log Cabin Republicans founder Rich Tafel said he thought both sides did a good job Wednesday night.
“I think Pence speaking over his time and the female host hurt him there,” said Tafel. “I think Harris speaking directly about not raising taxes and not opposing fracking helped Biden with those voters. I am not personally a fan of either candidate, but I felt Harris made moderate swing voters more comfortable with her and the ticket.
“I have a long antagonistic history with Pence based on his anti-gay rhetoric,” said Tafel, “and find his speaking style smarming and canned.”
But Tafel dinged Harris for her “refusal” to answer Pence’s question about whether she and Biden plan to increase the size of the Supreme Court.
“That was a low point for Harris. They need to answer this question,” said Tafel.
Smith of Equality Florida said she thought Harris hit Pence hard “on the issues people care about most–the absolute lethal failure to protect Americans from COVID.”
MSNBC’s lesbian political commentator Rachel Maddow said she doesn’t think the debate will “move the needle” at all. CNN’s openly gay political commentator Keith Boykin agreed.
“Vice President Mike Pence needed to score a knockout to change the momentum of the campaign. Instead, he repeated empty platitudes and talking points that contradicted the truth about the coronavirus and the economy that Americans have watched with their own eyes nearly all year long,” said Boykin.
“In the end, nothing that happened in the debate did anything to move the needle. And that’s bad news for Donald Trump.”
Boykin gave Harris high marks.
“Going into Wednesday night’s debate, I thought the expectations for Senator Kamala Harris were unreasonably high,” said Boykin. “By the end of the night, however, she met them. She prosecuted the case against Donald Trump. She defended Joe Biden and her own record. And she managed to do it all while walking a racist, sexist tightrope that holds professional Black women to unfair standards of decorum.”
Buttigieg agreed, telling MSNBC that Harris made a “powerful case.” Buttigieg criticized Pence for having “tried to create a picture that everything’s fine.”
“He’s perfectly happy to say something that’s not true,” said Buttigieg, “…and make it sound as if everything’s going great. Buttigieg said he doesn’t think Pence succeeded.
Some political observers said they thought Pence didn’t look well. Pence had recently been on the front row of a crowded White House event to announce Trump’s nomination of Barrett to Ginsburg’s seat. Soon after that event, President Trump and numerous others at the event tested positive for the corona virus, and Trump was briefly hospitalized.
“What stands out to me from this debate was the repeated blatant falsehoods by Vice President Pence,” said Lorri Jean, executive officer of the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center. “When national leaders lie repeatedly, saying one thing and doing another, it should alarm LGBT people greatly, because it means we are at grave risk.”
“The most ominous content for LGBTQ people,” said Jean, “was his views on religious freedom—which would completely decimate protections for LGBTQ people in healthcare, in employment, in the recognition of our families (including the ability to adopt children) and more. That, alone, should have LGBTQ people running to the polls to support Biden and Harris.”
On Tuesday morning, the Biden campaign’s LGBTQ arm, “Out for Biden,” issued a press release to call attention to a poll showing 76 percent of LGBTQ people surveyed support Biden. The poll of 800 LGBTQ adults September 21-25, commissioned by the LGBTQ media group GLAAD and conducted by the Pathfinder Opinion Research group, found 17 percent support Trump. (The remaining seven percent supported other candidates or were undecided.) Those numbers are similar to data from exit polls in 2012 and 2016.
The Trump LGBTQ campaign arm, GetOutSpoken, publicized the results of a poll conducted by a gay dating app called Hornet. That survey, which was also publicized in Newsweek magazine September 15, showed 50 percent of gay men support Biden, 45 percent support Trump. The Hornet survey collected responses from 1,200 gay men in the United States who use the app.