President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence took very different debate approaches but had one strategy in common: seeing how far to the left the Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris was willing to go.
Pence regularly hammered Harris, a California Democrat who was rated the most liberal senator, on the Green New Deal. Trump tried to draw Biden out on defunding the police and other “law and order” themes. Both Republicans sought to get their opponents to admit they would “pack” the Supreme Court, a proposal with little support in a recent Washington Examiner/YouGov poll.
The strategy was to present the Democrats as far more radical, and much less centrist, than advertised. Failing that, Pence, and especially Trump, hoped to drive a wedge between Biden and his most left-wing supporters. In 2016, some Bernie Sanders voters stayed home, voted for third-party candidates like Green Party nominee Jill Stein, or even cast ballots for Trump.