Wednesday, October 05, 2016


Here's where I'm supposed to argue that the pundit groupthink is all wrong and that Tim Kaine embarrassed Mike Pence (and Donald Trump) in last night's debate. But I agree with the pundits: Pence did his job more effectively than Kaine did, though it wasn't a blowout. And the public's reaction seems to bear that out.

I don't know who told Kaine to come out of the gate interrupting Pence -- you have to be ready to elbow your way into the discussion when debating Trump, because he's a verbal bully, but Pence was calm and playing by the rules, so why be the first rule-breaker? I agree with Joy Reid's assertion on MSNBC last night that this may have come off as ruder to female viewers -- eventually we had two men talking over a female moderator, though it was clear that Kaine was the first to go down that road. Not a good strategy.

But it's also true that Kaine put Pence on the spot regarding Trump's most embarrassing statements, and when Pence wasn't ducking the assertions, he was issuing denials of things that actually happened. I think there'll be Clinton ads contrasting those Pence denials with clips showing that Trump (or Pence) actually did say the awful things Pence insisted had never been said. But I don't think they'll be a major part of the Clinton strategy. The campaign's focus is on Trump, not Pence.

I don't agree with the emerging conventional wisdom that, as Chris Matthews said last night, Pence "made himself the front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2020." The Republican front-runner for 2020 is probably some angry, underqualified blowhard -- Curt Schilling or one of the Duck Dynasty guys or Sheriff David Clarke. After twelve years of a Democrat in the White House, the rage addicts who gave us Trump are going to be feral -- they're not going to meekly accede to the guy who's "the next in line," especially if he was on a losing ticket in 2016. Remember, this year they might have gone for Ben Carson if Trump hasn't joined the race, and the conventional politician who ran strongest was bomb-thrower Ted Cruz. Pence is a right-wing extremist, but he postures as a reasonable man. GOP voters won't want that.

I'm telling you this even though I've said many times that after November the GOP will probably go back to being essentially the same party it always was, except a bit Trumpier. I still believe that, but only because the process of picking candidates in non-presidential races is still usually controlled by the Republican establishment. Not enough angry voters focus enough to rally around primary challengers to the Mitch McConnells and John McCains. But the hyperextended presidential campaign season gives rageoholic voters plenty of time to focus. They're going to want a brawler, and/or someone who's too pure to have been corrupted by service in the evil government. That won't be Pence.

But Pence was effective last night, and we shouldn't be surprised. He was a talk radio host in the 1990s. (I don't know why Kaine and his prep team thought interruptions would rattle someone an ex-radio pro.) And Republicans just have more self-righteous ready-made memes to fall back on in moments like this:
QUIJANO: Governor, yesterday, Mr. Trump said ... quote, "Putin has no respect for Hillary Clinton and no respect for Obama." Why do you think he'll respect a Trump- Pence administration?

PENCE: Strength. Plain and simple.... Donald Trump is a strong leader ... who is going to lead with American strength.
The American public often falls for empty right-wing bombast like that. Pence might have been a strong general-election candidate this year. But he's not enough of a rager to have won the primaries, and the same will probably be true four years from now.


sdhays said...

You don't think there will be any fallout in Trump-land for Pence letting Tim Kaine attack Donald Trump mercilessly for 90 minutes?

I think the only thing the Democrats need to say about this debate, and say it repeatedly, is that Donald Trump is so indefensible that his own running mate refused to defend him. It's an effective attack line, but it also plays directly to Donald's personal sensitivity to betrayal. The only way he doesn't eventually respond in a destructive way about it is if something else happens to distract him first. I imagine that Hillary will bring it up to his face in the next debate.

Knight of Nothing said...

I agree that Pence's debate performance doesn't make him the 2020 front runner. But I think it does ingratiate him to GOP party insiders and 'intellectuals.' That's probably what everyone really means by saying this. For example, on Paul Ryan's Facebook page, he put up a long post praising Pence for last night. They'll all be fluffing him until Sunday; especially because Trump is such a deranged and terrible candidate. This does not contradict what you're saying about GOP primary voters, though; I guess it further illustrates GOP party dynamics, which will likely be the same in 2020.

I also agree that it was more or less a draw. Certainly Pence was the cooler head, and Pence's strategy to simply ignore and disregard Kaine's attempts to talk about Trump threw Kaine off. I also thought Kaine missed a few opportunities, most notably when he was asked about Clinton's public image and didn't mention Congress's explicit efforts to tarnish it. And when talking about stop-and-frisk, Kaine was not direct enough that the policy is not only ineffective but illegal. But as others have pointed out, Kaine and Pence had very different missions last night.

Knight of Nothing said...

@sdhays - even though I think the debate itself was a draw, I think last night will be a net positive for Dems because of this.

My thought was that Kaine was trying to be pugilistic-- like Biden--and take over the discussion. I don't know him at all, really, but that approach doesn't seem to suit his natural demeanor. That said, one of Kaine's best lines of the night fits perfectly with your comment: "[Pence] is asking everyone to vote for someone he will not defend."

Danp said...

It's a pyrrhic victory for Pence if Hillary runs an add showing Trump/Pence statements followed by Pence's denials in the debate. More people will see the ad than watched the debate.

Also, since the debate commission discourages fact checking by moderators, it's hard to imagine a civil strategy by Kaine. Pundits and viewers are basically giving Pence he debate merely because his head didn't explode like Trump's did last week.

homelessonthehighdesert said...

Given that the Military Industrial Complex and the International Bankers and Insurers are doing their damnedest to start World War Three, what are the odds that there will even be an election in twenty-twenty?

Though when thought is given to the mean and unseeming lives our grand and great grandchildren will live, if they live at all, as a result of anthropogenic astmosperic disruption WWIII might be the better way to go.

Caveat Emptor
Ten Bears

Steve M. said...

Also, since the debate commission discourages fact checking by moderators, it's hard to imagine a civil strategy by Kaine.

He should have said everything he said last night, but he should have waited his turn and then pounced.

Victor said...

Well, that VP debate was a boring shit-show, wasn’t it?

Kaine did ok, but interrupted too many times. And he missed a real chance at some knock-out blows. But, he did his job: he brought up t-RUMP’s many sociopathic faults.

Pence never really answered a question, which caused Kaine to interrupt him to try to get him to answer THE FUCKING QUESTION!!!
Pence also acted like t-RUMP didn’t exist, except to deny his boss didn’t say what all sorts of video, audio, and twitter tweets that are easily obtainable prove that he did – and would make a great many TV ads for the Clinton campaign.

Pence’s head movements from side to side while Kaine was talking, made me think it was “GOP VP Bobble-head Night” at the college.

Before I went to bed, Pence’s “Senator, there you go whipping out that Mexican thing again,” was a cause for much hilarity (shades of Sheriff Bart in “Blazing Saddles!).

And Kaine got in a good one about women’s choice, when he asked why they couldn’t just let women make their own choice.

Overall, not entertaining. But both candidate did what they were supposed to do.

Feud Turgidson said...

This is Steve M at his best, what drew me to NoMore Land. Yet, I fagree also with several dissenting comments, or all of them.

What a crappy debate: crap concept, crappily moderated, crappily gamed out, crap executin. Yet crap is not fungible: some fertilizes, some landfill, some toxic. You just can't tell til the crops come up ... or fail.

From the Pence-centric POV, Steve M has it perfect: POV' this one would please who? Heritage Institute, but not Action; NRO, but not Ace of Spades HQ. Frum but not Gannon. Your trad GOP late middle age couple in Cincinnati, Atlanta, St. Louis or Pittsburgh, but not the primary base Trump rode to nom & who flock to his rallies. All this one can do is remind the Deplorables what they assembled like corvids to eliminatge. WTF cares what they or the Pence-standard sack-of-hammers GOPers think of this debate or Kaine?

Kaine will have left no different a mark on the GOP base and the Trumpsters than Muskie, Shriver, Ferraro, Benson, Lieberman or Edwards - i.e. per Woka: NOTHING. Certainly LBJ had an effect in 1960, but Humphrey in 1964, superb on the stump? He at least loss fairly close in 1968. Maybe by some stretch Mondale did a bit more than nothing for Carter in 1976 (I doubt it.), but how to rationalize that with 1980 or his own loss in 1984? The most to be said about Gore is maybe he was between Humphrey and Mondale. We can put Biden in the LBJ basket, but he RAN as second banana, not as future preznit.

Now - look at the gifts Tim Kaine has brought us: he has no serious future beyond HRC - he, like Biden, LIKE THE ROLE HRC INTENDS FOR HIM HIM, is Loyal Second Banana. He makes HRC look BETTER. That's GOOD, no?

Would I have preferred Perez up there? YES! But I never got Biden until he delivered on the Energy Stim. Now? Greatest White House Buddy Movie Ever! Okay, time to throw out the buckets of piss. Back to the main event.

Jimbo said...

Basically, I think your analysis is probably on target though I did think that Pence came off as really "low energy" (in Trump's phraseology), especially in the first part of the debate. Just a note on the "Republican Establishment". The national GOP is pretty much dead. Priebus is just the cemetery groundskeeper. The state and local level GOP parties, however, are alive and well and with few exceptions are run by right-wing extremists, outright racists and anti-science ignoramuses. So I really don't see any actual possibility of the "GOP" becoming more moderate even if they lose badly in November.

Phil Freeman said...

Mission accomplished, from the Clinton campaign's POV. They've already put out a video wherein Kaine criticizes Trump, Pence calls the criticism nonsense or says "I never said that," and they immediately cut to Pence or Trump (or both) saying the exact thing he just claimed to have never said. Kaine's job was to get those criticisms into the public record, and get Pence to respond in...pretty much exactly they way they were hoping he would. That's the problem with being as relentlessly on-message (and too stupid to think on your feet) as Pence is; you walk right into the traps.

Feud Turgidson said...

Just saw this tweet from Mike Gehrke:

"Second debate in a row where Trump can complain of a Mike that wasn't working for him"

Never Ben Better said...

LOL Feud, that's perfect!

Tom Hilton said...

I think there'll be Clinton ads contrasting those Pence denials with clips showing that Trump (or Pence) actually did say the awful things Pence insisted had never been said.

The Clinton campaign cut a video already, and it's absolutely devastating. I expect there'll be ads with a shorter version of this, but in the meantime this'll do.