The Veep candidate debates are always an odd event, in that the candidates aren’t really running against each other, despite all of the media hoo ha suggesting otherwise. They know that very few voters cast their ballots because of the top of the ticket’s Veep pick, despite the importance of that decision.
History will affirm that, in 2016 more than most years, the Veep nominees were there mostly to bash away at the top of their adversary’s ticket, while exalting their respective running mates. That’s understandable, given the comparatively strong negative opinions many voters have toward the presidential nominees.
There will be lots of discussion for a minute about who “won” the Veep debate, and maybe an inconsequential poll or two. It’s all mostly fodder for lazy journalism. Any revelations about the character and readiness of the Veep candidates (both are smart politicians, but Pence is morally-challenged) will be subordinated in the media to the quality of their zingers.
We’ll let the Republicans trumpet Pence’s best moments, such as they were. Hell, they put out a statement declaring him the winner even before the debate! But we’re not here to stock the false equivalency larder, so here’s some commentary Dems should find useful:
Ezra Klein tweeted “It sort of works in the debate, but Pence shaking head, saying “no he hasn’t” is going to look bad in ads next to Trump saying those things.”
Jonathan Chait observed dryly at New York Magazine, “Pence provided an evening of escapist fantasy for conservative intellectuals who like to close their eyes and imagine their party has nominated a qualified, normal person for president. It is hard to see how he helped the cause of electing the actual nominee…Pence did call for “broad-shouldered American leadership,” which could count as implicit praise of Trump, whose shoulder width Pence has lavished with repeated and almost erotic praise. It is a deflating commendation, similar to the Simpsons episode where Homer asks his father to compliment him, and his father replies, “I was always proud you’re not a short man.”
Jamelle Bouie nailed it at Slate.com with a two-sentence summation: “Whether Kaine or Pence was polished and polite matters less than whether they gave a fair and good-faith accounting of themselves and their politics to the public. And by that standard, Mike Pence was a clear and abysmal failure.”
Glenn Thrush notes at Politico that, “Their performances almost perfectly reflected the priorities of each candidate: Kaine was a hyper-briefed Trump-thumping machine…Pence, on the other hand, seemed less concerned with out-and-out defending his running mate than rope-a-doping away from uncomfortable questions: His standard response was to pucker his face and mock Kaine as “ridiculous” for pelting him with facts, statistics and actual Trump quotes.”
Tehama Lopez Bunyasi, an Assistant Professor in the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, explained at an NBC News Latino panel: “A vice presidential candidate should be able to defend the person at the top of the ticket. Kaine not only defended Clinton, he made a thoughtful case for her. But, when Kaine asked Pence to defend the litany of offensive statements Trump has made about Mexicans, women, Senator John McCain, Indiana-born judge Gonzalo Curiel, President Barack Obama, and the African American community, Pence simply didn’t, and it is on this point where he most clearly ‘struck out.’
Many commentators gave Pence an edge for his calm ‘temperament’ in the debate, in comparison to Kaine’s perceived badgering, which was designed to remind voters of something important — that Donald Trump can only be defended with lies and changing the subject. I would have liked to see a little more of Kaine’s attack directed at Pence himself, who has an extremist track record, despite his thin veneer of civility. If you want to know who Mike Pence really is beyond his deceptive persona, read “A More Familiar Monster:It’s tempting to view Mike Pence as the moderate side-kick to Donald Trump. He’s not,” a compact, but devastating take-down by Emily Arrowood, assistant editor for opinion at U.S. News & World Report.