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Column: Kamala Harris makes her points

Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris points a finger during the debate on Oct. 7, 2020.
Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris makes a point during the debate with Vice President Mike Pence in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

There’s no percentage in interrupting Sen. Kamala Harris. In fact, men who face her withering stare typically aim to keep mum, temporizing to run out the clock with evasions and haggling over semantics.

That’s why it was surprising that Vice President Mike Pence blabbed so much on the debate stage in Salt Lake City on Wednesday night. When confronted by a veteran prosecutor renowned for keeping a witness or defendant talking, Pence unaccountably went for the clobbering, lurching approach to “debate” that’s President Trump’s default setting.

And Pence’s insincere fake-concerned AM-radio speaking style — which contains uncanny echoes of Bill Clinton — was not suited to the bully task. Instead of seeming aggro he came off as pettish and nagging.

There was so much video Pence might have watched.

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Two years ago, Harris asked Brett M. Kavanaugh, then a Supreme Court nominee, whether he’d discussed the Trump-Russia investigation with anyone.

“Uh,” said Kavanaugh. “With other judges I know….”

“Have you discussed [the] investigation with anyone at Kasowitz Benson Torres,” she asked, referring to a law firm associated with Trump.

“I’ve….”

“Be sure about your answer, sir.”

“Well. I’m not remembering.”

In May 2019, Harris asked Atty. Gen. William Barr whether Trump had ever “suggested” that he open an investigation into anyone.

“Um,” Barr said. “I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. Uh.”

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“Yes or no?”

“Could you repeat that question?”

Harris repeated it, as if to a child.

“I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest,’ ” Barr finally said. “There have been discussions of matters … out there.”

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Sure, Pence’s interruptions Wednesday were sexist, but above all, they were foolhardy. Like Kavanaugh and Barr, Pence ended up incriminating himself in Harris’ hot seat — but he did so more deeply even than the other men, because he was evidently thrown by the prosecutorial tactics that are Harris’ forte.

Others have affected boredom at the vice presidential debate, which admittedly wasn’t the epic matchup of barbarism and civilization that we saw last week when the principals, Trump and Harris’ running mate, Joe Biden, faced off.

It is all here. How to vote. Where to vote. Endorsements. What issues are on the ballot in California and Los Angeles County.

But Harris pulled off her patented jujitsu with uncommon brio, letting Pence hang himself while viewers of almost every stripe complained he was the aggressor because he was talking over two women, Harris and the debate moderator, USA Today’s Susan Page.

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To complain about men interrupting women could be to make a feminist argument or a chivalric one or both. That argument could even carry a hint of misogyny, as when political operative-turned-analyst James Carville crowed in the postgame analysis, “Women hate to be interrupted” — as though irritation with interrupters were a strange hard-wired sensitivity of the fair sex.

Carville might have more correctly said, “Men love to interrupt even when it does their case a disservice.” Or, “Hoo boy, Harris can sure bait a witness into self-incrimination.”

Pence does his desperate best to paper over the ghastly failures of the Trump administration with chintz, treacle, lies and smarm. But Harris has found her footing as a campaigner. She is level, unafraid and, above all, prepared. She appears by turns incredulous, furious and amused at the innumerable ways in which the guilty dig themselves into holes.

Anyway, it’s impossible to talk over Harris’ gimlet eye. Or her broad smile that says, “You gotta be kidding me.”

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Exasperated incredulity and fury, inflected with controlled amusement at this administration’s near-cartoonish evil, is exactly the note Harris and Biden should strike till election day.

It’s the only appropriate response to Trump’s unhinged Wednesday infomercial for a COVID-19 “cure” — a set of symptom-relieving therapeutics that are no more a cure for COVID than they are available to anyone outside the White House.

It’s the proper response to his bratty unwillingness to debate Biden next week and to his Hail Mary attempt Thursday to get his mastiff lapdog Barr to deliver an October surprise by indicting Joe Biden, Barack Obama and, yes, Hillary Clinton for nonexistent crimes aimed at his campaign in 2015.

Incredulity is also a model for the rest of us as we prep to endure — and, if possible, find irony in — the next few weeks of the campaign, which are bound to be a bumpy ride.

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