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Pence-Harris debate gives Trump no relief: a Biden victory is in reach

Trump tells the American people not to be afraid of the virus that has infected 7.5 million of them and not to let it dominate their lives despite COVID-19 terminating the lives of more than 210,000 Americans. More Americans are unemployed today than during the great recession of 2007-09, but Trump broke off talks on a new economic rescue deal for them.

Vice-President Mike Pence listens to Democratic rival Kamala Harris during the debate on Wednesday night.

Vice-President Mike Pence listens to Democratic rival Kamala Harris during the debate on Wednesday night.
Credit:AP

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, America’s military commanders, are in quarantine because they were exposed to the virus from a commander on duty with their President.

Indications have been building since the weekend that the combination of Trump’s car-wreck engagement with Biden together with his preference for living recklessly in a state of denial on the pandemic have in fact now settled political sentiment in the US. Biden firmly leads nationally with double-digit margins in several polls, well north of 50 per cent of likely voters and leads in all the key swing states – including Florida and Pennsylvania – he needs to win on November 3.

As former Prime Minister John Howard might say, “Who do you trust to end the pandemic and bring America back together?” The answer to that question is now much clearer.

So could there be, in this maelstrom, a semblance of normality, a return to civil discourse and dialogue, at least between the Vice-President and the Democratic nominee for that office? And given the relative proximity of mortality to both men contesting the presidency, would we be able to see and determine who between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris might be the better president if fate intervened to require one of them to serve?

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Finally, an evening of honest political combat. Going into their debate, a former Harris adviser told Politico: “She just has to go out, nail Pence to a wall, and walk off leaving a trail of blood behind her.” Pence, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, had to sanitise his and Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

Harris drew blood in the first moments of the debate, as she looked at Pence and said of the pandemic: “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.” And that you “respect the American people when you tell them the truth”. And that she will be first in line to take a vaccine that received the Dr Anthony Fauci good housekeeping seal of approval, but not if the vaccine is commended only by the President. “If Donald Trump tells me to take it, I’m not taking it.”

Pence was strong on Trump’s delivering a successful and growing economy before the pandemic hit, on Trump’s prosecuting the trade war with China, and for taking out terrorist leaders. But Harris put Pence on the defensive much more often, with the Vice-President at times stricken when facing the need to defend the indefensible on the Trump-Putin relationship, on Trump’s denigrating those serving in the armed forces, on the encouragement he gives white supremacists.

In addition, now we know: if required, either could take the oath of office and faithfully discharge the duties of the presidency. But the Vice-President did not come close to breaking the momentum Joe Biden is enjoying right now. Biden is the front runner, and victory on November 3 is within reach.

Bruce Wolpe is a senior fellow at the United States Studies Centre. He has served on the Democratic staff in the US Congress and as chief of staff to former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard.

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