Politics

Mike Pence Really Would Not Shut Up

A video breakdown of both vice presidential candidates’ run-on debate answers.

Mike Pence, in profile at the right side of the picture, speaks while sitting with his right hand flat on a desk and his left index finger wagging.
Mike Pence has something to say at the debate on Wednesday. Robyn Beck/Getty Images

To open Wednesday’s vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, the moderator, Susan Page of USA Today, asked each candidate about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and how a presidential administration ought to respond, or have responded, to it.

Harris used her allotted two minutes to argue that Donald Trump had failed completely to contain the virus. As Page told Harris that her time was up, the senator hit her conclusion, that the current administration had “forfeited their right to election, based on this.”

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Pence spent two minutes arguing that Trump’s handling of the pandemic had been a great success, and, as Page said, “Thank you, Vice President,” he added that Trump “has put the health of America first.”

And then Pence kept going. “And the American people, I believe with my heart, can be proud—”

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“Thank you, Vice President Pence,” Page said.

“—of the sacrifices they have made. It’s saved countless—”

“Thank you, Vice President Pence,” Page repeated.

“—American lives,” Pence said, finishing up nine seconds after the original stop signal.

That moment established a running theme of the entire debate: Again and again—to the incredulity of the moderator, Harris, and much of the audience—Pence refused to stay within his allotted time, no matter how often Page tried to interject or remind him of the rules. Where Trump had shouted and ranted over moderator Chris Wallace in the first presidential debate, the vice president stayed bland and calm while following his boss’s lead in bulldozing the format.

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Page gave Harris blocks of time to balance out the vice presidential filibustering, and Harris got more aggressive about pushing past her own time limits as the debate went on and Pence kept talking. Afterward, many pointed out that the candidates had ended up with near-equal speaking time—36 minutes and 27 seconds for Pence, by CNN’s tally, to 36 minutes and 24 seconds for Harris—in an effort to argue that the vice president’s rudeness was a mirage.

But there’s a different, and more revealing, way to look at the time split. By Slate’s count, Pence talked past Page’s closing signal 17 times, for a total of 4 minutes and 21 seconds—which means 11.9 percent of his debate performance came after he’d been told his turn was over. Harris went over the limit 9 times, for a total of 2 minutes and 4 seconds, or 5.7 percent of her speaking time. (This tally does not even include the occasions Pence tried to grab time directly from Harris, by talking over her at the beginning or in the middle of her response time.)

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As the compilation of Pence’s bonus time below shows, he wasn’t simply finishing his thoughts but tacking on whole additional paragraphs or pivoting to entirely new subjects. Some of his extra sessions stretched on more than half a minute, to a maximum of 44 seconds, which is an eternity when your assigned time is two minutes. When a fly landed on Pence’s head and perched there, he managed to extend the spectacle for 17 seconds.

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For comparison, below are all the times Harris talked past the limit. She did achieve the longest overtime spiel of the night, spending nearly 56 seconds talking about criminal justice and racism—in reply to Pence’s own 44 seconds of extra time attacking her record as a prosecutor. None of her other extended remarks lasted more than 15 seconds.

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