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Opinion Here’s how Pence and Harris (and the fly) scored in the debate

(Tom Toles/The Washington Post)

It’s Round 72 and the Post Pundit 2020 Power Ranking has so many questions about the vice-presidential debate! What was the deal with Vice President Pence’s eye? Are we all on a first-name basis with the Democratic senator from California Kamala D. Harris? When was that fly’s last negative test?

So in the spirit of Wednesday night’s faceoff, we will be answering none of them directly.

Instead — and, thank you, Susan — we’d like to talk about how Pence and Harris performed. Read on for their scores.

Drew Goins

Scoring Vice President Pence

SIX. Mike Pence is a fine debater because he can lie a lot but not seem like a liar — sticking to the script on substance and sneakily shifting in tone. But a more important takeaway than who won is what was said: We ended last week with President Trump refusing to commit to the peaceful transfer of power. We ended this week with Vice President Pence refusing even to soften that refusal. — Molly Roberts

THREE. He’s rude. He interrupts. He hogs time. The Republicans’ biggest problem is with women, and Pence only made it worse. — Jennifer Rubin

NINE. Pence focused repeatedly on the Green New Deal and fracking for Pennsylvania and Ohio; the USMCA for Wisconsin; and Judge Amy Coney Barrett for conservatives generally and most people of faith. By delineating outrageous past attacks on Barrett, Pence raised both a defense around Barrett and an alarm about the courts that was key to 2016′s victory. — Hugh Hewitt

SEVEN-AND-A-HALF. He’s not particularly dynamic, but he stays on message like my dog stays on a scrap of chicken. — Megan McArdle

SEVEN. He got in solid hits for Harris’s opposition to the new NAFTA (aimed at industrial Midwestern voters) and muddied a bad contrast for Trump on taxes with falsehoods (aimed at alienated affluent whites). A religious conservative, he also spoke effectively to right-wing favorites including the relocating of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. But in the end, he couldn’t find a way to shift the focus from the pandemic. — Greg Sargent

SEVEN. I’ll bet tomorrow, conservative media will be talking about how the premises of Susan Page’s questions were almost all liberal. — Charles Lane

SEVEN. He defended the administration as well as it could be defended, simply refused to answer inconvenient questions and spoke effectively to the GOP base … maybe more in terms of 2024 than 2020. — Eugene Robinson

FOUR. His tendency to ignore a female moderator’s efforts to hold him to the agreed-upon rules of the debate probably didn’t do much to help the Republican ticket solve its problem with female voters. His pet fly gets a six. — Karen Tumulty

SEVEN. Calm and measured, Pence effectively reminded Trump voters why they’re backing the ticket. He scored some minor points against Harris, especially on court packing. The constant ignoring of the moderator wasn’t a good look. — Henry Olsen

SEVEN. Last time, I gave both candidates fives because, well, it was an inscrutable mess. This time, they both get sevens: Harris and Pence are better debaters than Trump and Biden … — David Byler

Scoring Sen. Kamala D. Harris

SEVEN. … buuuuuuuut it’s the VP debate, so it’s all a wash anyway. — David Byler

SEVEN. She effectively prosecuted the case on covid-19 and defended her own record and Biden’s quite well. But she didn’t go for a knockout punch because she didn’t need to. — Eugene Robinson

FIVE. Nothing disastrous, but she’s actually not a very good debater, despite the prosecutorial hype. Prosecutors ask questions; they don’t answer them. Harris doesn’t show to best advantage when the other side gets a turn on offense. — Megan McArdle

SEVEN. She did her job well and brought Trump into as many responses as she could. Talking directly to the camera was a particularly effective move for her. — Henry Olsen

NINE. She effectively set out her ticket’s mainstream record and scored clear wins on race and foreign policy. — Jennifer Rubin

SEVEN. The experience reminds me of what it’s like to have a contest between two experienced politicians in their prime years. — Charles Lane

EIGHT. Harris had to do four things: Keep the focus on Trump’s coronavirus catastrophe; remind people about Trump’s tax evasion and hundreds of millions in debt; introduce herself to parts of the country and show she’s capable of the top job; and talk a whole lot about health care. Though she could have more effectively debunked Pence’s false claims about Biden and taxes, she hit all four crisply and clearly. — Greg Sargent

SIX. Harris is a fine debater because she knows Pence’s particular style of lying and doesn’t let it rattle her. The questions were good questions, but no one really answered them. This was, as David said, a wash. — Molly Roberts

SEVEN. She dominated the opening of the debate based largely on her effective attack on the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic. — Hugh Hewitt

SIX. Her best shots were aimed not at Pence but at President Trump, which meant she was doing her job. But all in all, there wasn’t anything memorable enough about this debate to really shift the dynamic. — Karen Tumulty


Last week’s ranking: Round 71 | Here’s how Trump and Biden scored in the debate — if you can call it that

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments. We’ll see you for the next fracking — I mean, ranking. Until then, mind the plexiglass.

Watch Opinions videos:

Washington Post columnists weigh in on the vice-presidential debate between Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Vice President Mike Pence on Oct.7, 2020. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP/The Washington Post)

Read more on 2020:

Post columnists’ real-time commentary from the vice-presidential debate

Alexandra Petri: An exclusive interview with the fly from the debate

Jennifer Rubin: Pence would have been better off self-quarantining instead of debating

Gary Abernathy: Pence ably defended Trump in a way that few, including Trump, have managed to do

Alyssa Rosenberg: The vice-presidential debate was boring. Good. We need more of that.

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Harris won by keeping the focus on Trump — and Biden