Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Pence By A Nose

I'll say this much: If Mike Pence were running against Tim Kaine for president, I'd be worried. Fortunately for all of us, that isn't the case. Donald Trump is running against Hillary Clinton. That being said, this vice presidential debate will likely not move the needle much. In fact, I'd be surprised if the polls change at all. But it was Pence's night. He was calmer, smoother and smiled a lot, compared with Kaine, who I thought looked, dare I say it, too prepared, overly eager and at times a bit of a dick. On style - not so much substance - Pence did his job. He deflected and danced around effectively enough and, unlike his running mate, was unruffled by Kaine's attacks and, yes, interruptions.

The reason I don't give him the night on substance is because Kaine, for the most part, had the facts on his side. In one exchange when Pence denied he had ever said that Vladimir Putin was a better leader than Barack Obama, Kaine correctly called him out on it. On several occasions Kaine invited Pence to defend Trump's outrageous comments about Mexicans, women and African Americans, but Pence declined to do so. I also liked the way Kaine defended the Clinton Foundation by saying it had helped millions of people while the Trump Foundation was recently fined for giving an illegal contribution to the campaign of the attorney general of Florida who just happened to be investigating Trump University.

I also think that while Kaine's demeanor might've left something to be desired, Pence's non answers or outright false statements will no doubt provide more fodder for the Clinton campaign to run negative ads against Trump in the weeks ahead. That's what happens when your running mate digs a hole halfway to China; you wind up at home plate with two strikes already against you.

But I keep coming back to the 2012 VP debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. Obama had just gotten shellacked in Denver the week before and all eyes were on Biden to at least stop the hemorrhaging and allow Democrats to exhale. Biden delivered that night. No, it also didn't move the needle, but it gave Obama the space he needed to come out strong in the Town Hall debate, which he did. Obama won that debate going away and wound up being reelected to a second term.

It is doubtful that Donald Trump will take advantage of the opportunity Mike Pence has afforded him, primarily because he's constitutionally incapable of doing so. Indeed, even during the debate, Trump couldn't help himself; he tweeted that Kaine looked like "an evil crook out of the Batman movies." Seriously, if you don't have enough impulse control to at least wait until your running mate finishes his debate, building off that momentum is pretty much off the table.

And that's the biggest advantage the Clinton campaign has going for it over the next five weeks. They are running against the most xenophobic, ridiculously uninformed, delusional, self-absorbed, temperamental and unhinged candidate in the history of American politics. No amount of style and calmness can offset that.

So, in the end, what we were left with were two fairly inconsequential men who didn't make any major gaffes and, by default, didn't hurt their tickets any. It was more combative and more feisty than anyone thought it would be, but hardly riveting. I doubt many people tuned in to watch it, and the majority of those who did will be hard-pressed to remember much of it by the end of the week.

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