The bad news is there's another debate coming up next week. The good news, however, is that President Donald Trump won't be there, noted conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin in her Thursday column.
Writing in the Washington Post, Rubin celebrated a momentary return to normalcy, anticipating that Vice President Mike Pence won't randomly start screaming over Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and turn the debate into a circus.
What won't change, she noted is the lies. If Pence's 2016 debate is any indication, Pence isn't afraid to spread Trump's lies, even if they're obvious.
"Let’s recall how Pence handled himself in the 2016 debate," wrote Rubin. "He essentially denied or flat-out lied about what then-candidate Donald Trump had said or done. He denied that Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, that he advocated nuclear weapons proliferation, that he attacked Sen. John McCain and a federal judge of Hispanic heritage, and that he wanted to ban Muslims from entering the country."
She urged Pence not to try it again given Harris' background as a prosecutor. Already commentators are anticipating Harris will wipe the floor with Pence with fact-checks about the Trump administration's record.
"If Pence cannot bully or successfully lie his way through the debate, what can he do?" Rubin wondered. "He might try sounding rational, even if that means contradicting his boss. Of course Russia is a threat. Of course people should wear masks. It would be in Pence’s interest to establish himself as reasonable, given that he surely sees the handwriting on the wall for Trump and presumably wants a career post-Trump."
The conservative outlined five things that she thinks Harris should undertake given Pence's record and his work for Trump.
First, as the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Pence can't make excuses or pass the buck. Denying the simple facts isn't going to work. "Even if Pence demonstrates that he has a grasp on the pandemic, Harris can certainly make the case that his boss sure does not," Rubin wrote.
Harris should also demand that Pence explain Trump's years of refusing to denounce white nationalists. Even when facing off with reporters Wednesday, Trump still refused to denounce them, saying only that he's done it in the past, which he hasn't. Trump spent so much time in 2016 demanding that Democrats use the words "radical Islamic terrorism," but he can't even bring himself to denounce a white supremacist militia. When asked to denounce the Proud Boys, Trump told them to "stand back and stand by." The Proud Boys then made it into their slogan. Comedian Seth Meyers even remarked that if the denunciation is generally turned into a t-shirt by the group you're denouncing then it wasn't actually a denunciation.
The third task she outlined for Harris is one she anticipated Pence wouldn't want to talk about: the wild, irrational, conspiracy theories. The idea that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower, spied on his campaign, colluded with Ukraine to win the 2016 election and a slew of other claims that Trump sources as coming from "the internet."
"Nor should he want to discuss Trump’s sycophancy toward Putin, his anti-NATO rhetoric, his trade illiteracy (Who pays tariffs, Mr. Vice President?), his flattery of Kim Jong Un, his excuse-mongering for dictators or his invitation to the Taliban to come to Camp David," wrote Rubin. "On these points, Harris, who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, can make some headway with Republican crossover voters who are anxious about the United States’ declining prestige and influence in the world. Making the case for a president who can distinguish between enemies and friends would be a plus for Democrats."
Rubin's fourth task for Harris is to tell voters about the ways in which the administration is trying to invalidate the Affordable Care Act and the toothless executive order that created things that are already laws. The GOP's chief concern seem to be the fact that the law was passed by Obama and not what it actually does to provide healthcare.
Finally, Rubin said that Harris needs to list off Trump's long list of broken promises.
"Trump made to the 'forgotten men and women' of America," she said. "Trump has built a fraction of his wall (and Mexico didn’t pay for it). He tried to cut Medicaid. He did not produce an infrastructure bill. He never came up with a health-care bill. He did not solve the problem of China stealing our intellectual property. He did not make us more respected in the world. He did not best Obama’s job numbers, nor even create any jobs on net."
The only upside, Rubin said is that there likely won't be anything Harris can do to change the outcome, but if Pence wants to have any hope of a career after the White House, it's time to distance himself from Trump.
"His spinelessness to date suggests he will do the former, albeit ineffectually," she closed.