Understandably, no Democrat has voiced excitement about watching Joe Biden debate Donald Trump. There can be little hope of a resounding victory, however you would choose to define it; we know it will be two men well past their mental prime jabbering over each other and occasionally losing their tempers. But when Senator Kamala Harris joined Biden’s ticket, liberals rejoiced — in part because she would be squaring off against Vice President Mike Pence in a single debate, and, unlike her running mate, she is regarded as a master of verbal combat.
Even leaving aside the inconvenient truth that Harris didn’t sway many voters in Democratic primary debates, let alone to a degree that could justify such fizzy confidence now, one has to ask: What planet are these people on?
A debate can only work as intended when both parties enter it on shared terms, and the Trump administration as a whole has always rejected such norms. Harris could snare Pence in lie upon lie, and he’ll sit there smiling about it, perfectly serene in the knowledge that it doesn’t matter. He had an easy time of this when debating Senator Tim Kaine in 2016, sounding like the steady, polished former talk radio host he is, which made his opponent seem frenetic and overexerted in contrast.
Remember that? Anyone? Hello?
But sure, let’s say Kamala “wins” this debate, with a couple of key attacks that hit the target squarely. So what? Trump has been fucking impeached; he’s still in office, might still get reelected and is threatening to dismiss the will of the voters if he isn’t. That’s not a problem you solve in a stylized theater of rhetoric where you score intangible points on the bad guys. The triumphalist lingo of arguments on social platforms like Twitter — the “dunks” and “owns” and “eviscerations” — has really led some people to believe that by outmaneuvering him in a war of words, Harris will make Pence just… go away. That won’t happen, and neither does a vice presidential debate have any meaningful effect on the electoral map.
What’s more, Pence is operating for a team that interprets outcomes however they please. If he “loses,” they’ll say he wiped the floor with her, and life will go on as usual. Their minds are already made up, same as the Harris-loving libs, and you will never, ever get them to admit defeat. They don’t know how.
Anyway, expect the Democratic faithful and #Resistance accounts to scramble for snippets of the Harris-Pence debate they can memeify as proof that she obliterated him, then deploy this content in the dozens of indignant replies they write to Trump every damn day. Other than that, the showdown will quickly fade into trivial history as an event that did not inform or influence.
So have fun out there, Mike and Kamala — the stakes are high in 2020, but minimal on that stage.