The vice-presidential debate last night

Still from NYT video feed.

Still from NYT video feed.

Yeah, I watched it until the end, although I want you to know I didn’t enjoy it.

I liked this Tweet:

… to which I responded by reTweeting, with the added comment, “Rephrase: ‘Please, be gentlemen!’…”

A few general observations:

  • If you have to pick a winner, it was Mike Pence. But it’s less that he won, and more that Tim Kaine lost it — threw it away, really. Yeah, I understand that the running mate is supposed to be the attack dog so that his principal seems more likable, but now we have a situation in which neither Hillary nor Kaine is seen as likable — which means, I don’t think we saw the real Tim Kaine. He was playing a different character last night, and it was awful.
  • When I say Kaine lost, we’re talking in terms of the impressions we got of the candidates’ characters, not about issues. I can’t begin to tell you who did better on issues, although I’ll say that with some exceptions, Kaine did better on facts, especially when the facts involved Donald Trump — which most did. Kaine would cite an incontrovertible fact, and Pence would look incredulous, pained, saddened that Kaine would say such awful things — when all Kaine was doing was quoting Trump. Since Pence stayed above the fray, but failed to offer any substantive defense of his principal, some analysts today are saying Pence won, but Trump did not. (The one way Trump would be a winner is if he did a credible impression of his running mate in the next debate. But is he capable of that?)
  • About that moderator… Last night, I saw something bizarre happening over on Facebook — a couple of Trump fans I’m friends with were protesting vehemently about how the moderator was biased against their guy. One said of Pence, ” Poor guy had to deal with PLANNED INTERRUPTIONS FROM TWO!” Another said, “Can you not see that the questions are biased?” Which kind of made me wonder what debate they were watching. The moderator was a cipher, a nonentity, utterly ineffectual. I know that she asked some questions, but I can’t remember any of them. She was like a substitute teacher in middle school, pathetically trying to keep order, completely in vain. The moments I came closest to turning the thing off was when all three of them were talking at once, and no one listening to anyone.
  • I started off praising them for their civility and maturity, and then having to quickly eat those words. Which were not tasty.
  • Civility returned at the end when both men talked about their faith, for which I was grateful. It caused me to Tweet that “At least they’re not shouting over each other over their religious beliefs. So our politics have made SOME progress since the 15th century.” Toward the end of that segment, Pence did get on Kaine’s case a bit over abortion, but then he was just saying what I was thinking — especially after having read this piece that morning in the WSJ. And it stayed civil.
  • I liked a point that Mark Shields made after the debate was over on PBS. He said yeah, the veep candidate is supposed to build up the head of the ticket, but Kaine was just too fawning when talking about Hillary. Absolutely. Yeah, she’s way, way better than Trump, but she’s not that awesome.

Shields also said this, which I appreciated: “This was supposed to be the nice guys.” Right. So the night was a great disappointment — especially Kaine. I still think he’s a guy I’d like in a quiet meeting in an editorial boardroom. But he did himself no favors last night…

For the next debate, instead of these media types, how about having a Marine drill sergeant 'moderate?'

For the next debate, instead of these media types, how about having a Marine drill sergeant ‘moderate?’

19 thoughts on “The vice-presidential debate last night

  1. Doug Ross

    Kaine was almost Palin-esque in appearing unfit for the Presidency. Not due to stupidity but due to his over-the-top agitation and reliance on scripted lines that died on delivery. He was in trouble from the beginning and I was really turned off by him spending the entire time writing down (apparently) notes and joke lines on a piece of paper while Pence was answering his first question. Kaine spent the entire two minutes scribbling like a kid taking a final exam who is allowed one sheet of paper for notes.

    Hillary is scripted and cold. Kaine was scripted and a nervous wreck. Do we really want four years of that?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, it’s the only option we have, since the alternative — and there is only one alternative, one other ticket that can win — is unthinkable.

    2. Scout

      For all Kaine’s faults last night, and I agree they were there – no way did he ever look even remotely as unfit as either Palin or Trump, in my opinion.

    3. bud

      Come on Doug that is ridiculously harsh. You sound like someones grumpy old uncle with all these hyperbolic criticisms that have little relation to the truth. Kaine did interupt too much but he was spot on with his facts and calling Spence out for his obvious lies.

      Frankly I’m pretty excited about a Clinton/Kaine 8 year run. We can continue with the successful Obama policies and keep the country moving forward. They will work toward upgrading the ACA to address some of it’s shortcomings while keeping the many successful parts of it. The improving economic situation will likely continue under this pair. The supreme court will move in a more liberal direction. There will likely be more foreign policy successes like the Iran nuclear deal and opening of relations with Cuba. The horrible specter of global warming can be addressed. Women’s issues will be at the forefront of a Clinton administration, as will children’s issues. Hopefully Hillary will adopt some of Bernie’s pragmatic proposals to address the odious business practices of the big banks and the rich faction of the “47%”. Tax policy will likely return to the prosperous conditions of the 90s. All in all a Clinton/Kaine administration will move the country in a positive direction. There is no hope for that positive outcome with any of the other candidates for POTUS/VP.

      1. Doug Ross

        Kaine was a disaster. Not just the interrupting which I could take. It was the fact that he was so amped up and just firing off canned lines without any regard to the questions he was asked. He was Hillary’s puppet for the evening – say this, then say this, make sure you throw in the Apprentcie jokes early and often, don’t forget to bring up Trump’s 20 year old tax returns in every segment. He pretty much killed any chances of running for President in the future.

        “They will work toward upgrading the ACA to address some of it’s shortcomings while keeping the many successful parts of it.”

        Good one. Shortcomings. You mean spiraling costs, insurers dropping out of exchanges, and soon to be soaring penalties for not buying insurance? Little things like that.

        Hillary won’t do jack. She’ll have no mandate — she won’t even get 48% of the total vote if she wins.

      2. Doug Ross

        Name three things that Hillary MUST get done in four years in order for you to vote for her again. Any three. How about just one?

        Admit it – it doesn’t matter what she does. It’s all about the script and what she says.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          All she has to do to succeed, within the context of this election, is not be Donald Trump. If at any time in the next four years she becomes Donald Trump, or anything approaching Donald Trump, her administration will be an utter failure.

          Otherwise, she’s golden…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I snorted derisively last night when Kaine said that for him and Hillary, serving in office would be about making people’s lives better, or some such.

            How absurd. All I want as president is a reasonably rational and experienced person who will know what to do in some future crisis that I cannot possibly foresee at this time.

            Hillary fits that description. Donald Trump is the very opposite of that description.

            It’s pretty simple, really…

  2. Bryan Caskey

    I thought Kaine was supposed to help Hillary! with her likability issues. Pence came across as the guy you want to have a beer with. Kaine came across as the annoying sociology professor everyone hates.

    If Trump promised to resign on day 1 he’d win in a landslide.

    1. bud

      Opportunities missed but he had his hands full calling out Pences numerous lies. The bromance of Trump with Putin is enough to raise red flags. Pence seems ready to join that pair and make it 3 way.

  3. Mark Stewart

    Kaine’s performance was dismal; Pence’s was solid. The thing is, Pence’s ideas are off-putting. I agree with Burl, Kaine didn’t need to spend his time bashing Trump’s unfitness – Trump was apparently busy himself live-Tweeting personal insults and proving what a buffoon he is himself. Kaine should have explored Pence’s views – in a more rational tone.

    After watching the debate, I’d vote for Pence. But after reviewing his record I never would – his defenses of Trump are almost beside the point.

    1. bud

      Disagree. Pence defended Trump with outright lies. That important. It shows the shallow character of Pence character.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      All Kaine had to do to come off at least as well as Pence was to STOP INTERRUPTING HIM. That alone would have gotten him most of the way there.

      How hard is it for a grown man to wait his turn to talk? It’s something we teach our kids before the go to kindergarten…

    3. Kathryn Fenner

      Hillary’s campaign has put out a commercial juxtaposing Trump’s actual words with Pence’s Sergeant Schultz denials….I think there be smarts involved in Kaine’s apparent stupidity.

      1. Scout

        Last night, Seth Myers juxtaposed Trump’s actual statements that Pence denied he had made with a split screen of Pence shaking his head condescendingly. It was brilliant.

      2. Doug Ross

        You assume that television commercials work. Maybe on uninformed idiots… informed people have already made up their minds.

  4. Bill

    Pence won for style – which is practically the only measure applied any more in these televised spectacles, especially now that so many view political campaigns with a reality TV sensibility. But, as E.J. Dionne points out, while Pence may have “won style points for being smooth … staying smooth meant ignoring or denying most of what Trump has said and inventing a statesmanlike Trump who doesn’t actually exist.” So, again style triumphs over substance.

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