Mike Pence and Kamala Harris met in Salt Lake City, Utah on Oct. 7, 2020 to debate some of the biggest issues facing America prior to the next election. The vice presidential debate was highly anticipated and widely watched, with experts weighing in on the significance of Harris’ advantage over Pence.
Of course, there were the subsequent Twitter feuds over who won the debate, as well as a celebration of Harris’ perfect one-liner and the moment she shut the debate down. Yet, while the vice presidential debate dealt with major topics, such as the current administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as America’s overall health care system, it seems that national focus landed on Pence for less policy-related reasons.
The first reason was Pence’s alarmingly red eye, which lead many people to speculate whether or not he had coronavirus. The second was, of course, the fly, who decided to land on Pence’s head and remain there for over two minutes. It was uncomfortable, it was hilarious, it was everything. Amazingly, Pence has finally spoken out about the fly. Here’s what he had to say.
Mike Pence said he 'didn't know' the fly was there
Vice President Mike Pence spoke with Fox News host Dana Perino during “The Daily Briefing” on Oct. 12, 2020, while he was in Ohio. While the lion’s share of the conversation was about health care and Pence’s assessment of the debate, Perino couldn’t resist bringing up the fly. “I have to ask you because you’re a dad,” Perino began, “I want to know what your kids said to you when you finished that debate and they told you about the fly that had landed on your head.” Pence laughed (and slightly blushed), saying, “Well, they’re the ones that told me.”
“I bet they did,” Perino responded. “I didn’t know he was there,” Pence added. He explained how his three kids helped him prepare and supported him during the debate. He then said, “They all told me, ‘Dad, you did okay,’ but they did tell me about the fly. It was a good laugh for all of us.”
“For every family dinner from here on out,” Perino said, “it could be the story that just brings down the house.” Bring down the house, indeed. As the New York Post pointed out, the fly “eclipsed” many other topics during the debate, so much so that the fly became symbolic for many viewers of Pence’s leadership.
Fox News defended Mike Pence, while other outlets took the fly as a bad sign
While Mike Pence himself stated that he “didn’t know” the fly was there, other political commentators have questioned his claim and interpreted the fly as a symbol of Pence’s inability to act. In an “Ideas” piece for The Atlantic, writer David Frum saw the fly and Pence’s lack of reaction to it as symbolic of his own inactive leadership. “If Pence had shooed the fly and the fly had refused to shoo, that would have been bad. So he did nothing,” Frum wrote.
The stalemate between Pence and the fly was as symbolic a visual as we could need. “And that doing nothing somehow in one powerful visual moment concentrated everything,” Frum added. “It symbolized the whole Pence vice presidency, the determined, willful refusal to acknowledge the most blaring and glaring negative realities.”
While many outlets took the fly as an ominous sign, Fox News claimed the media fixation around the fly proved that Pence won the debate. Dan Gainor told Fox, “The best proof that Pence won the debate is how much the major media are talking about the d**n fly.” Meanwhile, conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted, “Pence dismantled Harris. So the entire media will talk about pinkeye and a rogue fly.” While the fly has now become a partisan talking point, it might amaze readers to know that this wasn’t the first time a fly came to bother a politician.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had to duel with flies
Amazingly, flies have actually appeared before during debates. As the Boston Globe pointed out, in 2016, a fly landed on then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton while she was debating then-Republican nominee Donald Trump. It landed between her eyes, as the outlet noted, and she didn’t move — but the fly did move along relatively quickly. According to The Wrap, Clinton’s fly, like Mike Pence’s, also generated several parody social media accounts and became a hot topic of conversation around her debate performance.
A fly also came to interrupt President Barack Obama in 2009, according to Newsweek, during an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood. In comparison to other politicians reacting to flies — how is this now a thing? — Obama was extremely active. He swatted at the fly and told it to “get out of here.” Harwood joked with Obama and said, “That’s the most persistent fly I’ve ever seen.” Obama managed to swat it dead.
A Twitter user drew the comparison between Obama and Pence’s fly-handling and said, “Occupying the White House requires situational awareness. Obama vs. fly. Never forget…” while adding a clip of Obama’s quick handling of the situation. It might seem ridiculous, but is it? The ability to respond adeptly to unexpected circumstances seems like a pivotal part of politics. Or maybe it’s fair, as Pence himself said, that he simply “didn’t know” it was there. Only Pence and the fly will ever really know the true story.
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