Harris vs Pence: A Debate on America’s Future

On October 7, one month before the American presidential elections, the JCU Guarini Institute for Public Affairs hosted the online event “Harris vs Pence: I (vice) presidenti?”

"Announcement of Senator Kamala Harris as Candidate for Vice President of the United States - Wilmington, DE - August 12, 2020" by Biden For President. "Mike Pence" by Gage Skidmore.

“Announcement of Senator Kamala Harris as Candidate for Vice President of the United States – Wilmington, DE – August 12, 2020” by Biden For President.
“Mike Pence” by Gage Skidmore.

Lucio Martino, moderator of the debate, introduced the three guests: Daniel Serwer (Professor at the John Hopkins School of International Studies), Viviana Mazza (journalist at the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera), and Eric Terzuolo (professorial lecturer at the American University School of International Service). Together with other participants, the guests discussed the US vice presidents’ debate that was to be held later that night. The talk didn’t focus exclusively on the debate, but also touched on many hot topics such as COVID’s influence on the elections, postal voting, the Abraham agreements, and Trump’s foreign policy.

Debates in COVID Times
Viviana Mazza pointed out that the visual aspect of the debate was unusual compared to the previous ones. Despite Pence’s effort to avoid these measures, the candidates were at a safe distance of 4 meters with a plexiglass divider between them. As Eric Terzuolo specified, Mike Pence is subject to Trump and therefore shares his beliefs on COVID and science. Indeed, despite Pence’s experience in political debates, Terzuolo thought that he would be in difficulty not only because of Kamala Harris’ good debating and prosecutorial skills but also due to the many errors of the Trump Administration. Also, Professor Martino brought up the issue of postal voting. According to Mazza, Democrats have come to the conclusion that voting exclusively by mail may be dangerous because of delays and possible rejection of votes, leading them to push for early voting.

The Influence of the Debate on the Elections
One aspect analyzed during the talk regarded the influence that the debate will have on the elections. In the history of American elections, two debates were significant for poll results. Al Gore vs. George W. Bush ended up with a minimal difference in the votes, which is thought to be attributed to the television impact of the debate. The other one is the historic debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, which was perceived differently by people who watched it on TV and those who listened to it on the radio. The TV audience preferred Kennedy for his elegance and demeanor, while the radio listeners found Nixon more convincing and confident.

Serwer doesn’t believe that the vice presidents’ debate will affect the final voting since polls already show Biden’s advantage over Trump. Terzuolo brought another possibility to the table: during the Ronald Reagan vs Jimmy Carter debate, Reagan asked the voters if their condition was better than four years before. That simple question turned out to be emblematic for the elections and influenced the voters. Therefore, Terzuolo thought that even a simple but effective catchphrase could affect the voters’ opinion.

The Beginning of  ‘New Normal’
Martino reminded the participants that surveys showed Trump as the candidate least likely to win four years ago as well, but then he did. “If the president’s name wasn’t Trump, we would already consider him defeated,” said Martino. “He already surprised us four years ago,” he added. However, considering a possible victory over Trump, Martino asked what the future with Biden as president would be like and how reversible Trump’s actions may be. Terzuolo and Serwer agreed that Biden would follow a moderate policy, completely different from Trump’s system. Terzuolo believes that there could be a margin of reversibility to Trump’s impacts, but he is also convinced that Americans should get used to a “new normal,” different from what they were used to before Trump. Americans have shown that they are capable of electing someone whose intentions are to dismantle everything people have worked hard for over decades, so voting should never be taken for granted.

Professor Serwer concluded the discussion with a question. Trump did not win the popular vote four years ago, as he was defeated by nearly three million votes. Today’s polls show him even weaker than four years ago. While results have yet to be seen, the Trump Administration has failed in almost everything it tried to accomplish, according to Serwer. Statistics foresee that Trump will be defeated by almost 5 million popular votes. Therefore, Serwer left the guests with the question: “Are Americans really capable of electing someone who loses to his rival by almost 5 million popular votes?”