The vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris was markedly different from the first presidential debate. I'm far from the first person to note that it seemed almost tame in comparison.
There was no telling one another to "shut up" or Trump refusing to condemn white supremacists and telling the Proud Boys to "stand by." The most notable moments consisted of Harris reminding Pence that "I'm speaking," and, of course, the fly that stole the show by landing on the vice president's head.
It seemed like an attempt at normalcy, a throwback to the more traditional political climate of pre-Trump and pre-COVID-19. At least, that's what many pundits pitched it as.
But my biggest takeaway from the debate is that Mike Pence absolutely terrifies me.
It's hard to tell for sure whether Donald Trump has been helped or hindered by his inability to play politics. It's given him legitimacy as an "outsider," built up the facade of the populist savior that he attempted to pitch himself as in 2016. That was never true, of course, but his brashness and willingness to say out loud the bigoted things that other politicians were only willing to dog-whistle at is undeniably part of what got him elected. That being said, it's also what's gotten him into trouble with key demographics he needs to win this November.
But if it's Trump's inability to use an indoor voice that might lose him this election, Mike Pence has no such issue.
He can gracefully duck questions and spin his objective failings into positive with the best of them. He's all the anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, anti-BLM, and climate change denial without the abrasive, in-your-face cruelty of the president.
After the debate Wednesday, I read the glowing reviews of Pence from people from my hometown. They praised his restraint, his calmness, his eloquence. I've seen many of these same people criticize Trump (rightfully) for his tweets, or his blatant racism. But those same ideas, when voiced in a more measured, traditionally political sense, were suddenly acceptable.
Pence is only 61, ambitious, and a heartbeat away from the presidency. Even if Trump loses in November, I wouldn't put it past Pence to make a move for the office in the future. If he pitches the same right-wing ideas as his boss in an indoor voice, I think he could be just as dangerous.