It is no secret that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris want the 2020 presidential election to be a referendum on President Donald Trump, not a choice between Republican and Democratic policies.
One reason for this is that for an incumbent, Trump is a uniquely polarizing figure that rubs many voters, even some who like the job he has done, the wrong way. But a second, arguably more important reason emerged Wednesday night. On issue after issue, Harris made perfectly clear that her ticket simply doesn’t have a whole lot of policies they stand for beyond “anyone but Trump.”
There were myriad examples of Harris refusing to say, even in broad terms, what Democrats would do if they take back power over the federal government. On the potential of packing the Supreme Court should Amy Coney Barrett become our next Justice, Harris again refused to give a straight answer, instead launching into a bizarre take on Abraham Lincoln and the election of 1864, all with a weird grin meant to assure us she was answering the question she wasn’t.
Similarly, on fracking Harris acted like she and Biden have had matching We Love Fracking tattoos for the past 20 years when in fact both have emphatically called for it and the jobs attendant to it to go the way of the typewriter very recently. More broadly on energy policy both moderator Susan Page and Mike Pence pointed out that the Democratic plan is basically a folder that has Green New Deal crossed out in crayon and the words Biden Plan etched above it.
On the Coronavirus response, Harris was specifically asked what she and Biden would do differently going forward from the Trump administration and she basically had nothing. Not only that, but her description of what they would have done already sounded so similar to the Trump response that Pence credibly, though jokingly accused of her plagiarism, adding that is something that Joe Biden knows a lot about.
This happened over and over throughout the night. One tell was that while Pence frequently went over his allotted two minutes to answer tough policy questions in detail, Harris rarely did. This was not Harris being polite and sticking to the rules, it was her getting through her milquetoast non-answer answers as soon as she could with as little detail as humanly possible.
The reason why Democrats don’t want to talk about policy is that there is no consensus in the party regarding any of the issues raised above. After the fracking exchange, far-left darling Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, in response to Harris’s pro-fracking answer, “Fracking is bad, actually.” This leaves voters in a bind because they have no idea if Biden and Harris’s newfound regard for fracking is genuine or just a put up job. They clearly haven’t brought the base of their party along on the issue.
Vice Presidential debates do not typically move the needle on presidential elections and this one is likely no departure from the rule, but there was a lot for Donald Trump and his campaign to glean from Pence’s solid performance. The biggest of these is to simply let them talk. It was widely noted after the first presidential debate that Trump consistently bailed out Biden by interrupting what were often very poor answers and provided Uncle Joe with an escape hatch. That must not be repeated.
Next week in the second debate, Trump must much more carefully pick and choose his spots to snipe at Biden, he cannot forgo his natural pugilistic style entirely, but he also has to let Biden punch himself out a bit. The American people, especially those with children, are perfectly capable of seeing when someone is ducking an important question. Harris did little else all night. Trump must force Biden into the same box next week.
The Republicans need this to be more of a choice election and less of a referendum on the president. This is true because however much, if any blame one wishes to ascribe to Trump for the ravages of the Coronavirus crisis, it happened under his watch, so the “choice” is who can get us out of it and back to the prosperity we had before it.
Biden and Harris have made very few compelling arguments about what they would actually do in the White House. Are they a Trojan horse for the far left as many conservatives argue? Maybe. Are they actually moderates who are willing to throw the nuttier ideas of the progressive base of the party under the bus? Maybe. We just don’t know because they just won’t say.
In the 26 days left in the election, the Trump campaign and the media need to force Biden to answer these questions. By November 3, they must force the real Joe Biden to stand up. On Wednesday night, Mike Pence got that job started.