Going into Wednesday’s showdown, Mike Pence had two big jobs. One, to defend the Trump administration’s record, especially its response to the pandemic. Two, convincingly paint the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket as the most radical national nominees a major party has ever put forward.

Mission accomplished. Pence is a skilled and disciplined debater, and his understated manner masks a killer instinct. He was always good, terrific at times and put on a clinic in how to methodically carve up an opponent.

Whether it matters in the big scheme of things is a separate question.

Maybe a little, which is to say not nearly enough to change the dynamics of the race.

Pence seemed hesitant initially, but quickly rose to the moment and grew increasingly better at seizing openings and turning around biased questions from moderator Susan Page to go on offense. By the end of the evening, he had clearly won the debate.

He did it by nailing the inconsistencies of Biden’s varying positions on taxes, fracking and fossil fuels in ways that highlighted the ways the Democrats have created a fog about what they would do if they win. After Harris promised that on “Day One, Joe will repeal” the Trump administration’s 2017 tax cuts, Pence responded: “She just told you, on Day One, Joe Biden’s going to raise your taxes.”

On China, he delivered the hammer, saying: “Joe Biden’s been a cheerleader for Communist China over the last several decades.”

He also succeeded at laying out Harris’ voting record as being “more liberal than Bernie ­Sanders’.”

For her part, Harris’ best moments came early, on the topic of the coronavirus, which polls show is the Democrats’ ace in the hole. She pressed the attack, calling the White House response the worst failure ever by a president and accused Trump and Pence of knowing about the lethality of the virus and “they covered it up.”

Yet she came up small when asked what a Biden presidency would do immediately upon taking office, saying it would focus on contact tracing and making vaccines free.

Pence practically jumped out of his seat, saying their plan “looks like plagiarism, something Joe Biden knows something about.”

Overall, Harris was well prepared, and nothing she said or didn’t say is likely to make a lasting difference. Indeed, even Pence’s performance, good as it was, will not reshape the dynamics of the race. The Dems were the front-­runners when the debate started and remained so when it ended.

There is one change that must be made, however: the moderators. The system of selecting career Washington correspondents is outdated and an obvious case of implicit bias when a president remains a disrupter to both parties and the ruling establishment.

Page, the Washington bureau chief for USA Today, followed in the footsteps of many of her predecessors by playing an outsize and inappropriate role. She did that with her questions, which sounded like they were ripped from the headlines of the Trump-hating Washington Post and New York Times.

Posed as questions, they conveyed an obvious sense of favoritism to the Democrats’ agenda.

On the Supreme Court, Page didn’t ask the most important question of all — whether Harris and Biden would expand it to include more justices. Instead, she asked what would happen to abortion rights if the court overturned Roe v. Wade.

That’s a big issue, but not the only one. And certainly the push by many on the left to pack the court with liberals by creating new seats if they control both houses of Congress as well as the White House merits an answer.

Moderator Chris Wallace let Biden off the hook at the presidential debate when he refused to give a straight answer, and Page didn’t even bother asking Harris.

Pence raised the issue several times, and Harris refused to answer, and Page let it slide. That’s a major mistake and voters deserve to know the answer — or at least have the candidates embarrassed by their failure to give one.

On the other hand, Page did have time for questions about climate change and whether it’s an existential threat, the Breonna Taylor case, and, in the most outrageous example, what would happen if Trump lost the election and refused to accept “a peaceful transfer of power.”

These are all Democratic talking points, now sanitized of their partisan taint by having the moderator deem them critical questions. Yet with the exception of noting that the Green New Deal is still on the Biden-Harris website, even as Biden insists he doesn’t support it, Page didn’t press and got no clarifications from Harris on any of the other inconsistencies in their platform.

While Pence was clever enough to work issues Page ignored into the conversation without being rude or interrupting, the rules and time limits gave Harris easy routes of escape.

That’s no way to run a debate, yet it keeps happening and will come up again in the next presidential debate.

Here’s my simple suggestion: Let the candidates talk to each other. That’s what people want to hear.

Otherwise, the only rule should be this: The moderator is the best who moderates the least.

Read More