The Vice Presidential debate never matters much in the selection of our Chief Executive. Given what’s at stake in choosing between the Democrat and Republican Presidential nominees, it perhaps matters even less this year. But at least for a few days, last night’s Mike Pence/ Tim Kaine head-to-head could influence the national conversation. Even that could be pushed aside as Hurricane Matthew comes closer and the baseball playoffs get underway.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence, with his calm, handsome appearance and often smooth delivery, honed by experience as a former talk show host, won on optics and demeanor. Virginia Senator and former Governor Tim Kaine was over-eager, over-scripted and interrupted too much, sometimes coming across like a gerbil frantic to irritate the opposition. If you were to watch the debate with the sound turned off, Pence was the clear winner. The moderator, CBSN’s Elaine Quijano, was in way over her head in attempting to curb the interruptions or guide the discussion. She treated the questions (with lack of follow-ups) as if she were running a speed-dating event.
But style isn’t substance. While Kaine was rat-a-tat-tat with his attack on outrageous comments Donald Trump has made, Pence was simultaneously shaking his head no and denying Trump ever said those things. The Huffington Post has set to music all Pence’s denials along with the video of the Trump statements Pence is insisting never happened.
The Washington Post’s fact checking of the debate looks at all the assertions made by the two and finds misstatements and exaggerations by both candidates. It found that Kaine got out “ahead of his skis” in his claims of what Clinton has achieved regarding reduction of nuclear materials in Russia and the impact of cutting taxes for the wealthiest in spurring the great recession. Pence twisted an AP report on the number of meetings that Clinton donors had to her when she was Secretary of State and was wrong on the percentage of Clinton Foundation money that goes to charity. His claim regarding a reduction in and weakening of the U.S. Navy was also off base. These are just some of the examples the Post found.
Pence’s job last night was to defend the indefensible, and he couldn’t do it. What he could do is position himself in the eyes of the GOP conservative establishment as a plausible presidential candidate for 2020. Depending on your point of view, he either refused to be baited or failed to support his running mate. He even advocated positions that Trump has not.
But 2020 is a long way from now and assumes a turn of events on November 8 that is by no means guaranteed. Actuarially speaking, the Vice Presidential nominees are more relevant this year, and last night’s debate was a useful introduction to two unknowns, who could actually be called on to serve if necessary. In Pence’s case, it left some Republican and undecided viewers wishing the GOP ticket were reversed. All in all, however, last night’s debate will probably be but a blip on the screen when we go to the polls to cast our votes.
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