Vice President Mike Pence lives in an America most of us have never known. It’s a fringe conservative’s dreamscape, where impulsive, half-baked decision making is met with fawning and flattery. Far from the world I grew up in, Pence’s insulated bible-scape is populated by stadiums of devoted followers, courts stacked with judicial enablers, and staff who indulge every foolish instinct.
But on Wednesday evening, Pence will step onto a debate stage in Utah where Kamala Harris will force him to defend a record notorious for its shamelessness in prying dignity, justice, and decency from millions — not just those he’s misled on the deadly pandemic, but those he’s vilified to deny them basic humanity. As a former aide to Harris, I know what awaits Pence on that stage — a 90-minute crash course in accountability, led by a prepped-and-ready prosecutor who will meticulously dismantle Pence’s record. Harris will speak truth to power — and what will remain is a damning rebuke of the Trump-Pence record and a clear contrast between Pence’s vision for the past and Harris’s vision for the future.
Harris will no doubt make the administration’s fatally lackluster pandemic response a cornerstone of her argument but she’ll also use the 90-minute debate to speak directly to those who have been marginalized by Donald Trump and Mike Pence — including Latinos, immigrant families, and the LGBTQ community.
As California’s attorney general, Harris was instrumental in the fight for marriage equality and she continued to fight for LGBTQ rights and protections in the Senate. By contrast, Pence is notorious for his anti-LGBTQ record, and has become a standard bearer in the fight against gay marriage, pushing the false narrative that being gay is a “choice” or “learned behavior.”
This issue takes on new salience with voters as the Trump-Pence White House pushes forward with the nomination of an ultra-conservative nominee to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg — a move that puts marriage equality in serious limbo, especially following this week’s revelation that Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito believe the Court’s landmark ruling legalizing gay marriage should be overturned.
On behalf of Latinos and immigrant families, Harris was one of the first members of Congress to challenge the Trump administration on family separation and has been a leading champion for Dreamers. She has advocated for desperately needed COVID-19 relief measures for Latinos and immigrant families — many of whom are essential workers and among the most impacted by the pandemic (Latinos are three times more likely to contract coronavirus, and 72 percent of Latino households are facing serious financial problems).
Contrasted with the Trump-Pence administration’s record — which began with 2015’s notorious branding of Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, and has continued with divisive, racist rhetoric and policy — Harris and Biden offer a beacon of leadership and a new vision on COVID recovery and immigration policy. Their efforts are mobilizing Latinos and resonating with millions of swing voters repulsed by and increasingly moving away from this administration’s disastrous pandemic response and extreme anti-immigrant policy.
Polling from June reveals there’s strong support among Democrat and Republican voters for providing a path to citizenship for Dreamers and another survey shows similar support for the broader undocumented population. Additional polling earlier this summer, conducted across twelve battleground states, found that the Trump-Pence anti-immigrant electoral strategy is failing with a 51-percent disapproval rating — with 43 percent of voters indicating Trump’s immigration policies are a reason to vote against him.
But perhaps more than any poll or policy, Harris’s personal experience as a Black and South Asian-American woman and the daughter of two immigrants, will speak the loudest.
Harris will use her personal story of struggle, hard work, and sacrifice to not only connect with millions of voters whose story like mine is rooted in a similar experience, but to illuminate how the Trump-Pence administration has shamelessly wielded its power to punish those who aren’t wealthy, white, and conservative.
Harris will use her story to underscore how the Trump-Pence administration has abused its power to further stack the cards against communities already denied justice and lacking basic rights and protections — and how that failed leadership has engineered a social landscape that dictates two sets of rules: those afforded the political and cultural allies of Trump and Pence, and the far more restrictive, burdensome rules imposed on underprivileged and underrepresented communities — many of whom will decide the election in November.
Harris will bring with her on that stage the voices of millions of marginalized, working Americans. And Pence won’t be able to evade accountability or run from his record.
He’ll have to answer to the chaos and corruption that has engulfed the nation. And he’ll face the court of public opinion — made up of jurists not only paying for his failed leadership with their lives, but who live in a world based in reality, decades beyond the midcentury snowglobe Mike Pence is currently whirling around in.