Debate Civility Won’t Survive Trump’s Return

Mike Pence came off as reasonable and reassuring during last night’s vice presidential debate — a potentially brief moment of comity ahead of Donald Trump’s planned return to the campaign trail as soon as Monday.

The relatively civil tone of the debate with Democratic challenger Kamala Harris stands in contrast to a race otherwise marked by Trump’s combative style.

Harris called Trump’s handling of the coronavirus “the greatest failure of any presidential administration” in history, while Pence accused her of evading questions about whether a Joe Biden administration would expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court or implement the so-called Green New Deal climate plan.

But the session was largely devoid of the interruptions and name calling that permeated last week’s chaotic first Trump-Biden face-off.

Should Trump make good on tentative plans to visit the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Michigan early next week ahead of his second debate against Biden on Oct. 15, the tone that Pence and Harris brought to last night’s session is unlikely to last.

The president — who has been itching to get back out on the campaign trail since being sidelined by the Oct. 1 news of his Covid-19 diagnosis — yesterday continued to extol his first-hand experience with the virus as reason to downplay the danger it poses.

Trailing Biden by increasing margins in the polls, Trump called his brush with the disease “a blessing from God,” and said he’d authorize emergency use of an experimental antibody treatment that he described as “key” to his recovery.

Confined to the White House for now, Trump is road testing his narrative for the campaign’s final days.

Harris and Pence during last night’s debate.

Photographer: Eric Baradat/AFP

The vice presidential debate was so civil that the most unexpected moment came when a fly landed on Pence’s head. Biden retweeted a picture of him holding a fly swatter, urging supporters to “pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly.”

Global Headlines

Pro-life agenda | Republicans are on the cusp of fulfilling a decades-long campaign to install a Supreme Court majority that might overturn abortion rights. But as Steven T. Dennis and Greg Stohr report, their battle cry also risks motivating the wide swath of voters who back abortion rights in a year where the party is struggling to keep its Senate majority.

Campaign 2020

There are 26 days until the election. Here’s the latest on the race for control of the White House and Congress.

Facebook is tightening its rules on election-related content, instituting a temporary ban on political ads when voting ends, as it braces for a contentious night that may not provide a definitive winner.

Other developments

Sign up to receive daily election updates as a direct mobile notification on Twitter. Simply click on this link and like the tweet.

Dangerous game | China’s Communist Party has threatened to invade Taiwan for more than seven decades without following through. But as Samson Ellis explains, while Beijing and Taipei have many reasons to avoid a war that could kill tens of thousands, devastate their economies and potentially draw in America, several forces could yet push them toward action in the next few years.

Targeting Tehran | The Trump administration plans to impose sanctions as soon as today on Iran’s financial sector to further choke off its economy from the outside world, sources say. The move could make Iran more dependent on informal or illicit trade after earlier rounds of U.S. sanctions crushed its economy.

Fraying alliances | A $7.6 billion fine imposed by Poland over a Baltic Sea pipeline has exposed the cost of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s support for the Russian-backed project. The gas link is a key flashpoint between the West and Moscow and raises the prospect of the European Union’s biggest state siding with the Kremlin in a dispute with a fellow member, Patrick Donahue and Marek Strzelecki report.

All clean | President Jair Bolsonaro said he’s ended Brazil’s long-running Carwash probe, which has sent hundreds of political and business power brokers to jail, because “there is no more corruption in the government.” While the operation is ongoing — police commenced the bribery probe’s 76th phase yesterday — Bolsonaro’s administration has been dismantling the structure behind Carwash for months, with many of its members resigning or moving to other positions.

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What to Watch

  • While the U.K.’s trade talks with the EU look like they’re heading off a cliff, officials are more upbeat in private, suggesting a choreography is being worked out for negotiations to continue past U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Oct. 15 deadline.
  • With virus infections surging in Europe, there’s growing alarm at governments’ ability to control the pandemic as national politicians lean on local authorities to take the lead in limiting late-night activity in towns and cities.

  • Azerbaijan’s foreign minister meets French, Russian and U.S. mediators in Geneva today, while his Armenian counterpart will hold talks in Moscow on Monday, amid mounting pressure for a halt to fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh.

  • Global extreme poverty is expected to increase this year for the first time since the Asian financial crisis more than two decades ago as the pandemic builds on the impact of conflict and climate change, the World Bank said.

And finally … Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s ability to relate to others has served her well as she led New Zealand through some of its darkest moments, including a mass murder by a white supremacist and the pandemic, which the nation has largely kept at bay. While she’s failed to deliver on promises such as tackling child poverty, she’s won support for her empathetic style and capable crisis management. Now she’s on the brink of steering her left-leaning Labour Party to a hefty election victory on Oct. 17.

Ardern bumps elbows with a supporter.

Photographer: Sara Orme for Bloomberg Businessweek

— With assistance by Karl Maier