The biggest moment of the Pence-Harris debate was a fly landing on Pence's head, which sums up how calm it was without Trump
- A fly stole the show during the vice presidential debate on Wednesday, which was a sign of how calm it was compared to the Trump-Biden debate last week.
- Trump's absence from the room was the most noticeable aspect of the night, in the sense that it allowed for an actual discussion on the biggest issues of the day.
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The vice presidential debate between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday was as a debate should be: It was largely civil, and not particularly eventful.
The biggest moment of the debate was a fly landing on Pence's head, which prompted a fury of discussion on social media and among pundits on cable news.
"He had a bloody eye and a fly on his head," CNN's Anderson Cooper declared.
When people think back on the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden many years from now, it's likely the first thing they'll recall is that the president stood in front of the country and declined an opportunity to explicitly condemn white supremacist groups.
Comparatively, if anyone remembers the debate that took place on Wednesday at all, there's a strong chance they'll think back to that fly on Pence's strikingly white, perfectly-manicured hair. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, because it's a sign of how calm Wednesday's debate was in contrast to the political horror show that occurred between Biden and Trump last week.
Without Trump on the stage constantly interrupting and lobbing personal attacks, what took place on Wednesday actually had the capacity to educate American voters on where the campaign's stand on major issues.
"Americans deserve a discussion that is civil. These are tumultuous times, but we can and will have a respectful exchange," moderator Susan Page said at the start of the debate, setting the tone for the night.
In the Trump-Biden debate, the president attacked the Democratic nominee for having a son with substance abuse issues moments after the former vice president spoke about the military service of his son who died from cancer. There were no moments in Wednesday's debate that came anywhere close to the ugliness of that exchange.
Harris was tough on Pence in terms of the Trump administration's disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the vice president did not hold back on the California senator as he sought to misleadingly portray her as beholden to radical, left-wing politics.
In contrast, Trump's debate performance last week was quite literally seen as an endorsement by a far-right, extremist group.
Without even being in the room on Wednesday, Trump was the loser of the debate. For roughly 90 minutes, the country was reminded what US politics can feel like when he is not center-stage. It's a lot quieter, far more substantive, and decidedly less likely to fuel the divisions that have pushed American democracy to a breaking point.
Engaging relatively civilly is a low bar for American politicians to overcome, but Trump cancels out any possibility of reasonable debate — and somehow a fly landing on Pence's head reminded us of that.
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