Throughout the evening, Pence repeatedly dodged questions he was asked to return to preplanned talking points.
During Wednesday night's vice presidential debate, Mike Pence jumped from talking point to talking point — without bothering to acknowledge or answer any question he was posed.
In an elaborate game of keep-away, he policed Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-CA) answers to questions for 90 minutes, while deflecting or reframing any questions posed to him.
It called to mind a remark Donald Trump made about Pence back in April during a White House briefing, when Pence refused to answer a question about the administration's refusal to reopen Obamacare enrollment during the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think that's one of the greatest answers I've ever heard because Mike was able to speak for five minutes and not even touch your question," Trump praised his second-in-command. "I said that's what you call a great professional."
And Pence's powers of evasion were on full display Wednesday night.
Early in the evening, when moderator Susan Page asked why the U.S. coronavirus death toll is so much higher than any other wealthy nation, Pence ducked for cover.
"From the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of America first," he said. "Before there were more than five cases in the United States, all people who had returned from China, President Donald Trump did what no other American president had ever done. And that was, he suspended all travel from China."
Pence criticized Democratic nominee Joe Biden for opposing that decision.
He then bragged about the Trump administration's "reinventing testing" and delivering supplies to medical workers, and inexplicably accused Democratic nominee Joe Biden of "plagiarizing" Trump's coronavirus task force.
But he never did speak to the death toll in the United States.
When Page asked about whether Pence and Trump had any conversation about what would happen if coronavirus left the Trump unable to govern, Pence instead accused Harris of "undermining" the American people's confidence in a vaccine and criticized Former President Barack Obama's response to the H1N1 flu.
Asked if he believed that climate change was damaging the environment, he gave a nonresponse.
"Now with regard to climate change, the climate is changing, but the issue is what’s the cause and what do we do about it?" he pondered aloud, before falsely accusing Biden of attempting to ban fracking.
Asked again whether he felt climate change posed an existential threat, he responded to Page's (very direct) question puzzlingly: "Senator Harris is denying the fact that they're going to raise taxes on every American."
Page asked both candidates whether they would ban abortion in their home states if Roe v. Wade were overturned, and Pence — who has been unapologetically anti-abortion for his entire career — dodged the question.
"Well, thank you for the question," he said, "but I'll use a little bit of my time to respond to (a) very important question (from) before."
Pence instead discussed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, saying Biden and Harris disagreed with the Trump administration's decision to "take out" Soleimani.
"History records a Joe Biden actually opposed the raid against an Osama bin Laden," he said.
Then, when Page asked how Trump planned to protect millions of Americans with preexisting conditions if Obamacare were struck down, Pence decided he was ready to talk about abortion.
"I'm pro-life," he said, though nobody asked. "I don't apologize for it, and this is another one of those cases where there's such a dramatic contrast. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris support taxpayer funding of abortion all the way up to the moment of birth."
Perhaps the most disturbing moment of the debate came when Page asked Pence about whether the Trump administration would commit to the peaceful transition of power if they lost the election.
Pence instead spoke about his repeatedly debunked belief in widespread mail-in voter fraud, and then multiple times asserted his confidence in winning the election.
"I think we're going to win this election," Pence said. "I believe in my heart ... Donald Trump is going to be reelected for four more years."
MSNBC political analyst and former Obama administration official Richard Stengel was quick to criticize.
"Of all the profiles in cowardice that we witnessed last night, the greatest among them was Pence's failure to answer the question on the peaceful transition of power," he tweeted. "Even as he non-answered he knew he was trampling on the Constitution and our most fundamental right as Americans."
Others expressed similar concerns.
McCay Coppins, a staff writer at The Atlantic, tweeted: "These are good questions — it would be nice if we got to hear answers to them."
Washington correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle, Tal Kopan, summarized the evening: "Susan Page: Insightful question. Candidate: That's a great question. Please allow me to answer it with a different answer I've memorized."
But it was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) who spoke for millions of Americans.
"Why is it that Mike Pence doesn't seem to have to answer any of the questions asked of him in this debate?" she tweeted.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.