The Atlantic

Where Harris Succeeded and Pence Failed

Both candidates needed to convince voters they possess the right temperament for the job. Only one pulled it off.
Source: Robyn Beck / Getty / The Atlantic

Will this latest debate make a measurable difference in the outcome of the election? Probably not; vice-presidential debates rarely do. But something significant may have happened last night, and it involves what usually turns out to matter, if anything does, from televised debates. Namely, the parts of their personalities and identities each candidate purposefully or unintentionally conveyed.

If vice-presidential debates are remembered at all, it’s usually for stage-business drama or rhetorical zingers. The most famous case is Lloyd Bentsen’s “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” dressing-down of Dan Quayle in 1988. But that line of Bentsen’s, which lastingly affected Quayle’s reputation, didn’t dent the vote share for the Republican ticket that year. (Quayle and George H. W. Bush won in an Electoral College landslide, 426 votes to 111.) The similarly instant-classic moment from last night’s debate was when a black housefly camped on the snow-white hair of an unaware Mike Pence for two full minutes. Depending on how the election turns out, this will eventually be seen as a minor embarrassment, comparable to toilet paper on your shoe (if Pence

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