VP Debate: Pence Won on Everything
Eric Lendrum, 2016 Elections Contributor
Let me just get the obvious verdict out of the way right now, since this is pretty much what everyone will be saying: Pence won the night. No question about it. But it’s not so much that he won, as it is that Kaine lost. Hard.
First, the true elephant in the room was the sheer contrast in body language, demeanor, and voice. Throughout the entire debate, Pence remained calm and collected, rarely made gestures with his hands, and spoke with that smoother and deeper voice in a manner that was indeed very presidential and professional – most likely left over from his days as a radio broadcaster.
And then you have Kaine. The man was making wild gestures with his hands, speaking in a shrill voice, and his eyes darting back and forth between his rival and his assistant – I mean, the moderator. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it weren’t for the fact that he interrupted Pence practically every single time he spoke. Literally.
Pence barely got a word in edgewise on anything without Kaine barging into the statement in a manner that made Trump’s interruptions in the last debate seem mild. The contrast between their voices in particular – Pence’s calm and deep voice being interrupted by Kaine’s shrill and frantic voice – made the interruptions just that much worse. At least when Trump interrupted Hillary, he did it in a way that at least came across as assertive and with a purpose – not obnoxious, petty, and in between every single answer, like Kaine. I’d best sum it up as the interruption skills of Kanye West with the body language and demeanor of Kramer from Seinfeld.
Also on the subject of body language, Pence struck a key win in this category with one other major factor that kept arising throughout the night: Whenever Kaine, on one side of the split-screen, was wildly delivering his latest petty attack against Trump, Pence, on the other side, was calmly shaking his head with a rather sly grin. This was crucial because, unlike Joe Biden doing the same thing to Paul Ryan in 2012 – where he was openly laughing and had a wide, toothy grin resembling the Joker – Pence did so in a manner that was calmer, and thus painted the perfect visual representation of what the debate ultimately was: A cool, calm, collected, and professional adult quietly tolerating (with some amusement) a wild, frantic, loud, and immature child.
There’s also the unsurprising issue of the moderator obviously being biased for the Democrat in this debate. She repeatedly cut off and interrupted Pence whenever Kaine didn’t; reminded Pence not to speak during Kaine’s time, but not doing the same for Kaine’s 542,791.5 interruptions; asked far more loaded questions of Pence than Kaine; could barely control the two candidates, thus displaying her sheer incompetence; all of the usual biased and unprofessional stuff. But one of my major pet peeves with this particular moderator was so quick to leap-frog from one issue to the next without even a hint of a transition. From foreign policy, to taxes, to health care, to immigration, to abortion, all of her switches from topic to topic just felt so forced and arbitrary, on top of the fact that she seemed to give Pence absurdly short amounts of time to speak, like 20 seconds or so. As far as the basic logistics go, it was the kind of roller-coaster that stopped being fun the moment it started.
But enough of the basic, broad summary of the usual factors that literally EVERYONE will be talking about tonight and tomorrow. Here’s some of the other key moments from the debate that are probably going to be talked about less, based more on the specific answers and their substance; not ironically, I feel a lot of the key elements of both VP candidates almost perfectly mirrored their respective running mates.
On the opening statements, once again, it was the Democratic ticket that delivered a rather broad, generic, and pre-prepared statement that made sure to cover a whole host of different issues, while also throwing in a random history lesson on Brown v. Board of Education. The Republican, by contrast, delivered an opening statement that mostly stayed on the same broad issue that has been the core of the Trump campaign: The economy, with an emphasis on free trade. What little aside Pence did throw in was a personal anecdote about his own upbringing, which I feel was much more effective in humanizing himself and providing a perfect polar opposite to the more robotic stump speech that Kaine had just given.
Another major area where this debate reflected the first presidential debate was that, once more, the Democrat resorted almost entirely to petty personal attacks against the GOP nominee, while the Republican candidate had all of the more specific attacks on the Democratic nominee’s record. But boy, did Kaine dump out an entire laundry list that rivaled Santa Claus’ list of naughty children: He threw in just about every single attack on Trump that you can think of all at once, and often found himself repeating the same attacks again (such as Trump’s alleged conflicts with women) even after Pence thoroughly disproved them. One particularly jarring moment, early on, was when Pence responded to the first attack by criticizing Hillary’s record as Secretary of State, pointing out not only how the Middle East and other regions are doing worse because of her failed policies, but that the Clinton Foundation took donations from these very same governments like Saudi Arabia.
Kaine’s response? “Donald Trump is supported by white supremacists!”
Really? Throw in another basic and disproven attack line that literally has nothing to do with the subject at hand? It was like if Pence were talking about the economy, and Kaine suddenly threw in a line about global warming. The reaction from Pence when Kaine said that, a sort of “Come on, really?” line, perfectly reflected my sentiments. Another one came in towards the end of the debate, where the moderator asked a question about immigration, and Kaine immediately crowbarred in an attack about Trump’s alleged comments about women. Talk about an obsession with non-sequiturs.
Here now is where this debate starts to differ from its predecessor – and indeed, become even more interesting.
First, I’d say Pence is now officially the #1 attack dog for Team Trump. He effortlessly, and clearly, went after Hillary Clinton on a lot of major issues that Trump himself didn’t dare go near in the first debate: From the Clinton Foundation, to the failure of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (or New START) with Russia, to how horrible the Iran Deal really is, and how it actually brings Iran closer to getting a nuclear weapon, not preventing it from doing so.
He even smoothly tied the Russia and Iran problems together, in one of the strongest rebuttals of the night. When Kaine launched the tired attack of Trump’s “friendliness” with Putin, Pence flawlessly turned it right back around on Kaine and Hillary by pointing out how Hillary’s weakness on Russia, and enabling of Iran to get nuclear weapons, actually allowed the Russians and Iranians to become even closer and form their own dangerous alliance. This is definitely a unique take on this rather complex geo-political issue, one that practically no one has talked about, yet Pence brought it up, clearly explained it, and then fired away at the Democratic ticket, in the single best takedown of any of the “Putin” attacks I’ve seen yet.
Winding down this review, I want to go over the three absolute WORST answers that Kaine gave, all of which made him come across as extremely condescending and/or elitist.
First, on the subject of Iraq, Kaine openly boasted about how there are now less U.S. troops in Iraq than when Hillary first became Secretary of State, and touted this reduction as a good thing. Pence fired away at the obvious target, pointing out how the quick pullout of U.S. forces led to the rise of ISIS. Kaine’s response? “Well, the Iraqi government didn’t want us there! They wanted us to leave!” Really? Victim-blaming, Kaine? That’s a whole new low in the never-ending list of excuses and pathetic answers given by the Democrats to cover for the colossal foreign policy failure that is the fall of Iraq. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Then, on the subject of the economy, Pence listed a handful of numbers about the increased poverty rates and other aspects of this current economic period that make it the slowest recovery since the Great Depression. Kaine’s response was to (naturally) interrupt with “15 million new jobs? 15 million new jobs?” This, once again, came across as extremely elitist and out-of-touch, to essentially write off all of the undeniable economic woes faced by millions of average Americans today, with an answer that essentially boils down to, “Oh, it’s not that bad! Stop complaining!” This only further boosted the image that the Trump/Pence ticket is definitely fighting for the little guy.
And last, the single most powerful exchange of the night. It wasn’t just a simple attack on the Democrats, or an intelligent rebuttal to a Democratic attack. It was a powerful attack that set up a very dangerous rhetorical trap for the unsuspecting victim, in a lethal 1-2 combo. I speak, of course, on the moment when they were asked about the status of police in America today, and their treatment in this very hostile, racially-divided climate. Kaine gave an extremely generic answer on how there has to be tighter relations between the police and their communities (with, of course, no specifics whatsoever). Pence then fired away with a cannon at point-blank range: He directly accused Kaine and the Democrats of being guilty of politicizing every single police shooting, and using these instances to paint the police with a broad, demonizing stroke in order to pander for votes. It was the single sharpest, firmest, and most perfect attack on this subject I’ve ever seen.
And what was Kaine’s brilliant response? Without even a slight bit of hesitation, he openly told Pence that they “have to acknowledge the bias” in the police and the system at large.
Pence threw in the sucker-punch of the night, and then laid down a cyanide-laced bear trap for Kaine to be caught in once he got back up. But Kaine didn’t just step into that trap – he dove headfirst into it.
In a single instant, Pence did all he needed to do – he delivered his firm accusation that the Democrats are anti-police for the sake of votes, and Kaine voluntarily confirmed his accusation. I would declare this to be the moment that Kaine lost the debate (on substance, that is).
Overall, for the significantly smaller crowd that actually cares enough to tune into the VP debates, this was undoubtedly a huge win for the Trump/Pence ticket. Pence was cool, calm, collected, and presidential above all else, while Kaine was wild, frantic, and genuinely obnoxious to watch. Pence talked entirely about substance, record, and specific policy issues and solutions, while Kaine resorted to tabloid headlines as his line of attack. If there was one area where Pence had a shortcoming, it would have to be that he didn’t fully defend Trump against every single attack that Kaine lobbed – but that’s like blaming a warrior for getting hit with two or three arrows when he has approximately 300 archers all aiming at him, and his shield doesn’t cover his entire body. Pence could barely defend Trump at all with Kaine’s constant interruptions and the moderator’s help in enabling him, so I would definitely call that more of a fault of the biased structure of the debate rather than any fault of Pence himself.
Overall, Pence gets a solid A- (the minus being the aforementioned inability to defend Trump as vigorously as he needed to). Kaine gets a D+ (the plus being from the moderator’s help to do what he otherwise couldn’t do on his own). Pence crushed it tonight, which may help restore some wary Republicans’ faith in the overall GOP ticket of 2016. Hillary would be best to just quietly put Kaine away for the rest of the election cycle.
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