From his hard-line anti-abortion stance to his hawkish posturing about Russia, Mike Pence basically presented himself in Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate as a standard-issue, off-the-shelf national GOP politician. It’s hard to know what effect that will have on skittish Republicans — Trump’s campaign itself is proof that Pence doesn’t have a whole lot of influence over Trump, much less any control. But it’s at least possible that Pence’s performance could help down-ballot Republicans by demonstrating that Trump hasn’t changed the party at a fundamental level — for better and for worse, it’s the same party it’s always been.
Pence (and his party) probably also benefited from the fact that no one mentioned just how much further to the right he can be. The Indiana governor has pushed for gay conversion therapy, signed a law that would force burials for aborted fetuses, and once tried to start a state-run propaganda outlet.
Pence’s strategy for defending Trump’s past statements was to shake his head sadly as if he couldn’t believe that Tim Kaine would repeat Trump’s words in public like that. And then — well, he mostly didn’t defend them. It might not have been a totally effective strategy, but it was pretty efficient! Pence sometimes looked like he was hearing these stories about his running mate for the first time, or that he might have been told that he was another Donald Trump’s running mate. It seems possible that the Trump campaign keeps Pence in a locked, soundproof room whenever he’s not on TV, meaning that the long list of Trump’s well-known antics would actually have been a complete surprise to him. This is honestly not the worst idea.
Anyone Who Was in a Locked, Soundproof Room This Entire Election Cycle
That 90 minutes was a good recap of every single thing that Trump said in 2016 — as well as the tendency of each of these incidents to immediately fade into the background as soon as they’re supplanted by the next preposterous statement.
Whoever Was in Charge of the GOP Website
Our Understanding of What Constitutes a “Normal” Debate
This debate was not exactly conventional. Instead of a game of talking-point volleyball, it was like someone fired a bullet made of Trump talking points into a room filled with metal pipes and watched it ricochet around as everyone ran screaming from it or tried to deflect it toward the other person in the room. But a reminder for whatever happens next week: This is how entertaining debates are supposed to be! Remember when we all thought “binders full of women” was the dumbest thing a person could say at a debate? Or when someone brought up “horses and bayonets” and people laughed? Or when you could spend more than half of a debate talking about something besides someone’s hotels? No, we can’t remember that either.
The Industrial-Nostalgia Complex
Back in the ’90s, Pence wrote a column about why everyone loved the movie Titanic. It ended with the sentence, “There are icebergs ahead and we know it.” This seems like the appropriate response to every single thing that has happened this election cycle, including this debate.
This debate made it absurdly obvious that out of the four presidential and vice-presidential candidates, Donald Trump remains by far the least prepared. Pence appeared to have spent pre-debate time reading briefings, as well as practicing. Kaine’s strategy was pretty clear: prosecute the case against Trump, whatever it took. And since Pence’s strategy was mostly to avoid directly rebutting that case (while strenuously insisting that he was willing to defend Trump), that meant Trump kind of just kept taking it on the chin.
Anyone Who Thought That This Debate Would CHANGE A THING
There might be one person in America who is basing their vote on the vice-presidential choices this year — we don’t know who, but if this election has taught us anything, it’s that anything is possible. But if the vice-presidency is “not worth a bucket of warm piss,” then the vice-presidential debate is where potential vice-presidents have to mop up the mess their running mates made so they have something to carry around in that bucket for the next four years.
Questions That Weren’t About Foreign Policy, Trump, or Religion
Maybe next time, climate change.
The National Debt
The two questions posed about the budget hinged on the idea that the United States is laboring under unsustainable debt levels. Neither candidate challenged the fundamental premise of the question — not too strange for a Republican candidate, since they constantly use “fiscal responsibility” to justify cutting government spending. But it’s weird (or should be) for a Democrat. The truth is that the national debt is not that simple, and the idea that the country is about to be washed away in debt is one of the more harmful and resilient bipartisan myths of national politics.
Kaine’s constant interrupting was a poor strategy, and not just because it was rude. Repeatedly cutting off your opponent gives the impression that you’re afraid of what the other person has to say, and not particularly confident in your own arguments. This is especially true when it’s obvious that you’re not doing it for any particular reason, and it seemed that Kaine just wasn’t willing to wait his turn. It’s obvious that he was taking his role as attack dog seriously, but his smirky hectoring made him look like Randall Weems from Recess, and his attempts to hit Pence with insults mostly didn’t land.