The title question is one being brought up in a USA Today editorial by Aaron Kall. Generally, ratings for the veep debate tend to be lower than the presidential confrontations, in keeping with John Garner’s proclamation that the vice presidency was “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” (The more polite version using the word “spit” was actually a misquote.) But have recent events dramatically changed this dynamic as Kall suggests? We’re talking about more than just network ratings here. He’s positing a situation where the voters are going to be paying a lot more attention because some of them will base their choice on the bottom of the ticket rather than the top.
The momentous events of the past week greatly increase the odds that the sole debate between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence will have an outsize impact on the election just one month away. The presidential debate in Cleveland was marred by continual interruptions and personal insults, which the American public found disheartening. President Donald Trump’s positive coronavirus diagnosis, revealed early Friday, threw the campaign and remaining presidential debate schedule into doubt.
The most recent national polls following these tumultuous events are ominous for Trump’s reelection prospects, and Pence will have to try to stop the bleeding at the vice presidential debate Wednesday in Salt Lake City.
There is unusual interest and anticipation surrounding the Pence-Harris debate for a multitude of reasons. Undecided voters want to be confident that it’s still possible to conduct a civil and substantive political debate during such a watershed election. Given the age and health of the two presidential nominees, it’s essential for Harris and Pence to reassure voters they are capable of stepping into the role of commander in chief at a moment’s notice.
Some of the points that Kall attempts to make strike me as reductive and based on ideologically slanted assumptions. For one thing, he posits that the raucous nature of the first debate between Trump and Biden was so “disruptive” (or insert a negative adjective of your own choosing) that everyone was turned off and they’re looking for examples of more civil discourse. I would argue that the people complaining the most about Trump’s performance are the same ones that would have kvetched if he’d shown up carrying a bouquet of flowers for Uncle Joe and spent the entire time talking about what a swell fellow he is. But Trump’s supporters expect that sort of aggressive, in-your-face attitude and those few who remain in the middle have long since grown used to the President’s confrontational nature.