Pence’s evasion is smoother than Trump’s shouting, but he’s no more likely to answer a hard question

One aspect of Vice President Mike Pence’s debate performance that won’t necessarily be caught by traditional fact-checking is how he constantly dodged hard questions. Although Pence is happy to lie, in many cases he instead just … didn’t answer, not even bothering with a politician’s traditional acknowledge-and-pivot.

The New York Times describes Pence’s answer to a question on preexisting conditions as “a master class in evasive rhetorical jujitsu.” In that one, he “ignored the question (the White House has not, in fact, come up with a plan), then launched into a long defense of his anti-abortion views and, for his dismount, demanded that Sen. Kamala Harris say if she supported a plan to ‘pack’ the Supreme Court.” But that wasn’t the only time Pence completely evaded an inconvenient question by any stretch.

He didn’t acknowledge the content of a question about whether voters deserve to know more about Donald Trump’s health, treating it instead as if he’d been offered well wishes to pass along to Trump. When asked: “Why is the U.S. death toll, as a percentage of our population, higher than that of almost every other wealthy country?” He lied about Trump having “suspended all travel from China” and attacked former Vice President Joe Biden for having opposed that move. He bragged about “the greatest national mobilization since World War II.” He promised “literally 10s of millions of doses of a vaccine before the end of this year.” He accused Biden of plagiarism for a coronavirus response plan that, Pence claimed, looks like Trump’s. (This, too, is false.) At no point did he admit that yes, the U.S. death toll is extremely high by global standards, or try to account for this failure.

Again and again, Pence followed this pattern.

When ineffectual moderator Susan Page asked: “Vice President Pence, you're the former governor of Indiana. If Roe v Wade is overturned, what would you want Indiana to do? Would you want your home state to ban all abortions?”

Pence began responding with “Thank you for the question, but I'll use a little bit of my time to respond to that very important key before.” He then offered 124 words on Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, before acting like he had been asked about whether he wanted to see Amy Coney Barrett confirmed to the Supreme Court: “Now with regard to the Supreme Court of the United States. Let me say, President Trump and I could not be more enthusiastic about the opportunity to see Amy Coney Barrett become Justice Amy Coney Barrett,” Pence said, and pivoted to attack Democrats for supposedly being opposed to Barrett because of her faith. At no point did he in any way approach the question of Roe v. Wade or whether his home state should or would ban all abortions. This is a man whose career has been defined in large part by his opposition to abortion under any circumstances, but when asked about it on his largest stage, he talked about everything but.

Pence also echoed Trump’s refusal to answer one extremely important question: “If Vice President Biden is declared the winner and President Trump refuses to accept a peaceful transfer of power, what would be your role and responsibility as Vice President? What would you personally do?”

Pence began with his confidence that he and Trump would win. That’s standard politician stuff—of course he wouldn’t start by accepting the premise that he’s going to lose. So, too, with his litany of supposed accomplishments of Team Trump. But. Pence then moved to attacking Democrats for supposedly undermining democracy first, through investigations of the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and through impeachment, a constitutional process that did, let’s not forget, draw a conviction vote from Republican Sen. Mitt Romney. This is Pence setting up a rationale for Trump to attack the results of the 2020 elections. When he attacked mail-in voting as creating a “massive opportunity for voter fraud,” he was echoing Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the results of the 2020 elections. And crucially, at no point did Pence say yes, he would accept a loss in this election. At no point did he answer the question about taking responsibility if Trump refuses to accept a peaceful transfer of power.

In one sense, Pence was just doing the thing he’d done throughout the debate: dodging. But on this question, a dodge is an answer. Pence’s answer is that if Trump refuses to accept a peaceful transfer of power, he is along for the ride, kissing ass as he's been doing for the past four years.

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Democrats seek to make a move in New Hampshire debate: Live coverage #1

Between Iowa’s confusion and unclear result and the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11, we have a Democratic debate. Your cast of characters for the evening, in alphabetical order: former Vice President Joe Biden, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, rich guy Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and online fave Andrew Yang.

Per CNN: “The debate will air live nationally on ABC and locally on WMUR-TV. ABC News will livestream the debate on ABC News Live, featured on Apple News, Roku, Hulu, AppleTV, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, the ABC News site and mobile phone apps. WMUR-TV will livestream the debate on and WMUR's mobile app.”

Daily Kos will have live coverage.

Coverage continues here.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:05:42 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

And the candidates come onto stage. Elizabeth Warren certainly gets an enthusiastic greeting, as do Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and Andrew Yang. That’s not to say that Joe Biden wasn’t welcome, just that his supporters in the room may have been less shouty.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:08:08 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Biden gets the first question—why did Pete and Bernie win in Iowa, and are voters taking a risk going for them. Biden’s response seems a bit hurried and bland, already talking about the “first four” debates. Stephanopoulos forces Biden to take a swing at Bernie and Pete. Which gets a mention of Democratic socialism, and inexperience, but it’s pretty bland.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:10:00 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Sanders gets a chance to defend himself, says that Trump shouldn’t be trusted when he says he wants to run against the “democratic socialism” label because “Donald Trump lies all the time.” Sanders is lays claim to Iowa popular, defends a shot from Stephanopoulos about the failure to pump up turnout numbers in Iowa.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:11:06 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Klobuchar rises to Stephanopoulos’ invite to attack the “democratic socialist” label. Klobuchar is clearly a candidate on the bubble here, so it makes sense for her to look for any opportunity to squeeze in.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:12:34 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Steyer gets to talk … and says that we need to get out a diverse base, then claims he’s pulling better numbers with blacks and Latinos than I’ve seen in polling. But at least he can point at the Democratic base.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:13:44 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Yang is the next to get a chance to talk, I’m not sure there was actually a question here. At this point Stephanopoulos seems to be just letting him talk about AI, capitalism, etc. without making him come back to any of the points as he did Biden and Sanders.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:14:56 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

For Warren, Stephanopoulos tries to reframe the questions as “her vs. Bernie,” but Warren pushes past that quickly and says that the issue that Democrats can agree on is fighting against corruption, and that this is something that can bringing in independents and Republicans.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:18:10 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

For Buttigieg, Stephanopoulos makes the question about the word “socialism,” rather than pressing him to attack Sanders … but Stephanopoulos didn’t need to, because Buttigieg goes there on his own by immediately claiming that Sanders “goes all the way to the edge” and says that people shouldn’t even be Democrats if they don’t agree 100%.

Stephanopoulos is clearly happy to see some sparks, and invites Sanders to join in. Sanders does a good job in replying about “bringing people together” with better wages, fair taxes, better healthcare. 

On this exchange, Sanders did much better than Buttigieg.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:20:43 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Stephanopoulos gives Buttigieg another shot to say he will “galvanize and energize but not polarize.” And defends his health care plan.

Then Biden gets a chance to jump on Sanders. Biden gets extremely angry / shouty immediately as he bellows about the cost of Medicare for All. Not a good look, but he definitely paints himself as the guy “who got Obamacare passed.”

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:22:31 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Sanders gets the chance to defend Medicare for All, point out the true cost of healthcare as it exists. Stephanopoulos gives Biden a chance to swing again — funny, it already seems like we’ve spent a lot of time allowing Biden, Buttigieg, and Sanders to talk.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:25:01 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Klouchar presenting herself as the person who understands “what leadership is about” … which is not providing universal healthcare of making any changes that would seriously change anything.

Warren finally gets a chance to talk again, gets in a slight dig at Klobuchar by saying she can define her plan for herself. And because it’s Elizabeth Warren, she does that.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:28:42 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Buttigieg pushing himself as the “outsider” who is there to fight against the “politics of the past.”

Biden “I don’t know what about the past of Barack Obama and Joe Biden was so bad” rattles off a list of legislative accomplishments. 

Buttigieg gets another chance to reply to Biden, talking about “meeting the moment” without giving specifics.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:30:19 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Klobuchar gets a chance to talk about the impeachment hearing, giving praise to Doug Jones and Mitt Romney and for showing political courage. She drubs Buttigieg for running against Washington, points out that Trump is also the “newcomer” and in general does a helluva job on that response. Points to Klobuchar.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:35:00 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Sanders gets the chance to talk again and returns to talking about healthcare, and specifically drug companies. It’s energetic … but it’s kind of a speech. I’m still giving points to Klobuchar for recognizing that this debate isn’t debate #1, or #2, or  #3. 

Steyer “all the healthcare plans are better, a million times better.” Has praise for all the candidates—though takes a knock at Buttigieg’s experience.

Buttigieg’s turn to talk and … wow, did you know he lives in the Midwest? A half point to Buttigieg for mentioning Trump’s National Prayer Breakfast, then take away that point for doing all but jumping into bothsiderism.  

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:35:55 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Yang … makes Yang supporters happy. 

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:42:19 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Warren confronted by charges that she’s being divisive in saying she wants to investigate Trump. Brings it to her “government that works great if you’re [rich / lobbyists / etc]” point and manages to swing her entire pitch into the response. 

Unhappy with the response, Hernandez gives Yang a chance to refute Warren. Which he kind of sorta does.

Sanders gets his chance to respond and does an pretty darn good of talking about the reason Trump needed to be impeached, and the sadness of the Republican rolling over for Trump.

Steyer says “is he a crook? I knew that two years ago. Is he going to be more of a crook? Of course he is.” Steyer has really had some pretty good lines tonight, but keeps coming back to an electability issue that doesn’t really favor him.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:43:26 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Buttigieg is pitched the idea that Biden shouldn’t be nominated because Republicans are threatening to investigate Hunter Biden. Buttigieg gives an emphatic response. His best of the night by far.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:44:30 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Biden brings up Lt. Col. Vindman and encourages the whole room to stand and applaud Vindman. It’s a little bit of a stunt, but also not a bad move.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:45:34 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

I’m going to credit Buttigieg with that response on Hunter Biden. With it, some of the tension seems to have broken and there’s more camaraderie in the room as Klobuchar handles the next issue.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:49:04 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Klobuchar talks up her ability to “work with people” and the newspaper endorsements she has received.

Sanders notes that he doesn’t get many newspaper endorsements. He moves past a Hillary moment quickly, saying that he hopes that everyone will look to 2020 rather than 2016. Speaks a moment to his own claims of being able to work across the aisle.

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 · 1:51:54 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Muir’s first question to Buttigieg speaks to the war in Iraq, Trump’s killing of Soleimani, and the situation in the Middle East. Buttigieg gets in several good lines here, and handles the issue well.

Muir comes right back to Buttigieg and give him more time to expand on this, and again Buttigieg is doing a good job on the issues of intelligence and military.