Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My take on last nights vice presidential debate!

Mike Pence at a rally. Gage Skidmore.

The entire debate via CBS.

Last night was the first and only vice presidential debate between Indiana Governor Mike Pence and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. It was a hell of a ride and set a new standard in debates that I don't think Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will be able to live up to.

Why? Well for one thing, the debate had a much stronger focus on policy. Though the candidates did meander a bit, they stuck to the issues for at least some of the time. And the questions were about topics that were important to Americans. We heard about ISIS, Syria, Russia, crime, even abortion, and to their credit, both candidates were able to answer the questions, for the most part. 

I also have to say that the moderation in this debate was a lot less biased then in other ones I have seen. The fact that I saw an article on Vox (yes, I do read Vox occasionally, I am nothing if not complete) that said the moderator, Elaine Quijano, was too tough on Tim Kaine shows that she did manage to ask some tougher questions on the Democrats then we have seen so far this debate cycle. Though she did throw some curve-balls Pence's way as well, over all it was a lot more fair. 

Still, there was bias shown by Quijano, and she rather obviously failed to control the debate. Tim Kaine was interrupting pretty much all the time and though Quijano tired to get both him and Mike Pence to respect each others speaking time, it's obvious that she failed. Now, I don't blame her too much for that, Kaine really didn't seem like anyone could have calmed him down, but I did not like that she blamed both parties when Kaine was the one causing the most trouble. Overall though Quijano did a much better job then I expected someone from the mainstream media to do. That's damning by faint praise and just goes to show how biased the media has been so far. 

I really think that this VP debate will change some minds. Most VP debates are a waste of time, but in this case, where the tops of both tickets are deeply unpopular, it matters more then it normally would. With both candidates rather old (Trump's 70 and Clinton is 68), and one in rather poor health, it would not be surprising if Mike Pence or Tim Kaine ended up as president. With that in mind, I think that this debate will have a rather large impact on this race.

As always, I will take each candidate one by one and go through what they did right and what they did wrong. Most of this will be about performance, but I will mention a few things about policy as well. I will say right away, that out of any of the debates I have seen this election, this is the one where it was by far easiest to pick a winner...

Mike Pence:
This was a coming out party for Mike Pence. I'll admit to being lukewarm about him being Trump's VP pick (and I still have a few reservations), but had I known that he was capable of debating like this, I would have had none. Pence won this debate, hands down.   

Why? Well he was cool as a cucumber and completely denied Tim Kaine's preferred line of attack. Kaine spent almost the entire night bashing Donald Trump, often changing subjects just so he could work a few more attacks in. Pence kept his cool though and countered most of Kaines attacks with either complete dismissal, like they weren't even worth responding to, or with strong arguments of his own. 

Pence had one of the best moments I have seen in a debate. Kaine was hitting him hard about what Trump has said about Mexicans, Muslims, and women and accused him and Pence of running a negative campaign. Pence then through that back completely by pointing out that Hillary Clinton has been hugely insulting to huge swaths of the American public, specifically bringing up the basket of deplorable speech that Clinton had awhile back. As someone that was rather offended at that speech, I thought this was a great moment. 

He also was able to shut down a few of Kaine's obviously canned lines. One I remember was something to the effect of Pence being "Trump's apprentice" obviously referencing the TV show. Kaine also drew a contrast between "You're Hired and You're Fired". In one of those cases (forgive me, I can't remember which one it was) Pence said, in a fairly snarky tone, that it was a good line and that Kaine must have worked hard on it. 

Pence also did not leave many opportunities to hit Clinton, unlike Trump during the last debate. The only moment that I think he missed is when he could have pointed out that some of the recent terror attacks committed by 2nd generation terrorists could have been prevented had we had the kind of extreme vetting that Trump wants. Omar Mateen was the example I would have used, but Pence left that slow pitch go. 

But he hit Hillary on almost every other occasion. I already mentioned the "Basket of Deplorables" moment, but I also want to point out that he specifically mentioned a moment from the last debate that the mainstream media ignored. He hit Hillary hard because in that debate she not only implied that ALL cops are racist against black people, but that EVERYONE has implicit bias against blacks. That was hugely offensive and not something that the Trump/Pence campaign should have let hanging and it was incredibly important that Pence brought that up. 

Despite all of this praise for Pence, I have to say that he did do some things I didn't like. For one he brought up abortion. I'm one of the few Republicans that does not feel strongly about the issue either way, and one of the things I like about Trump is that he simply doesn't talk about it. When Pence brought it up again, my eyes glazed over and I thought "oh great, THIS topic again". 

Far more seriously, Pence seems to have taken a much harsher stance on Russia and Syria than Trump ever has. Though some of that was because Tim Kaine was accusing both Trump and Pence of being buddy-buddy with Vladimir Putin, it still went way beyond what I was comfortable with. One of the strongest arguments I had for Trump and against Clinton is that she is way too anti-Russia for my tastes. I have said time and again that her policies in Syria and her general disdain for Russia, is a recipe for disaster at best and full scale nuclear war at worst. At least Trump was signaling that he wasn't going to do something stupid in Syria, like setting up a no-fly zone.

So what does Pence do? Advocates setting up a no-fly zone in Syria. Ugh. This was not a good moment for me and it did make me briefly consider if I should still vote for Donald Trump. I got over it, largely because Pence also said that pulling out from our peace talks with Putin was a huge mistake, so unlike Clinton he is still likely to talk to Putin and keep the saber rattling to a minimum. Still, that was not what I wanted to hear from Mike Pence on the issue. 

All that being said, I do think that both the abortion issue and the Russia statements will probably play well for Pence. He may have secured quite a few evangelical/pro-life voters along with tempering down criticism from neo-cons that may have considered voting for Clinton. It's not what I would have liked, but I understand why it was done. The real question for me is who's policy on each issue will win out if/when Trump is president?

I do think that Mike Pence did an amazing job last night. He was a great contrast for Donald Trump and really does help cover up the weaknesses Trump has as a candidate. I also think that if Donald Trump does lose this year, Mike Pence is already the frontrunner for 2020. He looked smart, calm, unflappable and more than a little presidential. He also gave the critical, and possible election winning, impression that he is the reasonable guy that can keep Donald Trump on a leash. 

Tim Kaine:
After that glowing review of Mike Pence, I bet you think I don't have anything nice to say about Tim Kaine. Well you would be wrong. I have a few nice things to say about Tim Kaine, and then some criticism. Let it be known that I at least try to be impartial! 

First of all, I think Tim Kaine did something that Hillary Clinton has so far failed to do. And that would be looking human. Though Kaine was rather annoying throughout the night, he also looked like someone that was a real person, not a politician. He had a few moments of levity with Pence and was able to show that even if he didn't respect Trump, he still thought of Pence as one of the good guys. 

Second, I think that it was absolutely amazing that we had a Democrat on stage that didn't have any scandals to speak of. When Pence hit Kaine, it wasn't for anything he did (other then interrupt or exaggerating on Trump), it was for things that Clinton did. In fact, both candidates for Vice President were much less scandal prone then the top of the ticket. That alone makes him more likable than Hillary Clinton. 

Third, I do think that Kaine's constant criticism of Donald Trump did have some positive effect. Though I don't think for one minute that he convinced any undecided voters that Clinton was better then Trump, he did through quite a bit of red meat to the Democratic base. Enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton is near rock bottom and if she is to have any chance at all she needs here people to show up. By bashing Trump all night, Kaine was at least reminding Democrats why they hate Trump. Maybe he convinced a few luke-warm Democrats to show up for the polls in November?

Other then that though, this was a rough night for Kaine. His attacks fell flat, largely because Pence was too cool to rise to the bait. Time and time again Kaine tried to make the debate a referendum on Donald Trump, but Pence didn't fall for it. Instead he either turned it around on Hillary Clinton or went back to substantive policy debate. 

Furthermore, Kaine's style was rather Trump like himself. He was constantly interrupting Mike Pence and the moderator in such a way that it would even make Trump blush. I certainly wasn't impressed with it, and I think a lot of other people felt the same way. Indeed, some people that like Clinton for being lower energy than Trump may have been in for a shock when they found out that their VP pick was just as over the top and rude as Trump was. Plus, I don't think that Kaine has anywhere near the charisma Trump has. When Trump interrupts people, at the very least it is funny. Not so with Tim Kaine. It also opened himself up for sexism charges because some people find it rude when a man completely ignores a woman. Kaine did that in spades with the moderator. 

Kaine also seemed like many of his lines were pre-planned and not off the cuff. I almost wonder if he hit the debate prep a little too hard. Often times it seemed like he was rushing to use attacks that he had come up with, even if they had nothing to do with what they were talking about. At one point, he was talking about foreign policy and then completely out of the blue started bashing Trump on his taxes. It was a bad moment because people really wanted to hear what Kaine's plans were for ISIS, and he never really got back to it. None of it seemed natural and Kaine looked way to eager to bash the other side. 

I also have to say that Kaine's criticism of Trump was rather shallow. So much time was spent on Trump's tone and gaffes that he never really criticized Trump's policies. And when he did, he tried to frame it in a way to that brought it back to his tone. This might have worked if it had been someone else besides Kaine doing it, but as Pence rightly pointed out, Kaine was in no position to talk. Not only was he being rude and annoying, his team has done some of the same things he has accused Trump of, especially considering Clinton's deplorables gaffe and her calling everyone racist at the last debate. 

Still, as annoying as Kaine was, I can't help liking him more than Clinton, and I think most of America feels the same way. Though he was rude and annoying at least he wasn't boring and scandal ridden. Despite my misgivings about his policies and temperament, I do actually feel slightly better about a Clinton White House. My hope is that if she does win, she doesn't fill out her whole term and that he takes over because at least he didn't give me any indication that he has anywhere near the corruption level that Clinton has. 

Overall, this was a very good debate. Mike Pence rather obviously won and won strongly. I think that his performance, if nothing else, will dramatically raise the stock of Mike Pence. I also think that it may tip a few people over to the Trump/Pence ticket as he looked very reasonable and intelligent. Critically, he made Trump look smart just by picking him. He also shored up conservative voters, making them more likely to ignore Trump's shortcomings, and made a strong case that if something were to happen to Trump, he'd be a good fill in. If there was ever a vice presidential debate that effected the outcome of an election, this was it. 

Kaine got outplayed last night and didn't quite manage to live up to his expectations. He lost and lost badly, but I still think that he made the Clinton camp a bit stronger as well. He may have shored up a bit of support for the Democrat's base. And if nothing else had came off as more human and likable then Hillary Clinton. Given how low my opinion is of Clinton, that's damning by faint praise, but the fact that even I found somethings I liked after being introduced to him should tell you that even if this was a bad debate for Kaine, he adds something to the ticket. 

I also have to mention that I think both Mike Pence and Tim Kaine would have been pretty good top ticket candidates themselves. Though I am a fan of Trump, even I have to admit that Pence looked very presidential tonight, and even though Kaine wasn't great, he's still better then Hillary. I saw a lot of people on facebook and twitter who were asking "Why didn't we pick these guys instead of Trump and Hillary?" If nothing else, I think that those people at least have a point. 

With all that being said, I am hoping the next debate between Clinton and Trump plays out like this one did. All Trump needs to do in the next two debates is take a page or two from Pence's playbook and keep his cool. That will be a hard ask for someone as boisterous as Donald Trump, but if he can pull it off, he's got a great shot at winning the presidency. He just needs to stop focusing on defending himself so much and continue to hit Hillary Clinton on her shortcomings. 

Finally, if you enjoyed this post, remember that I will be covering the next presidential debate as well. I will live tweet the debate as it happens, despite the fact that it is up against my beloved Green Bay Packers. The sacrifices I make for you people! The day after I will have another post up recapping the debate an my reaction to it. I hope you will all join me again! 

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