This changes everything 

Wow, who would have thought a Vice-presidential debate could change the whole course of the campaign?!  Just kidding.  Other than calling it a “bad debate” (a debatable point), Nate Silver nails it:

Clinton’s ahead by about 4 points right now, or maybe 5, Micah. But I’m not sure I’d use that as a baseline to judge the impact of the VP debate. My prior is that this has been a pretty bad debate, and VP debates don’t move the polls much even when they’re pretty good debates. So any further movement in the polls is probably caused by things *other* than tonight’s debate.

(Also pleased to see that Nate Silver uses asterixes when italics is not available.  I do this all the time, as it seems the obvious thing to do, but I’ve felt almost alone.  But now that I see Nate Silver does it…)

So, whatever else I say about this, really probably doesn’t matter all that much.  That said, I think there’s a near-consensus that Kaine came across as too attack-dogish.  Okay.  Probably true.  Also true that Pence did not actually work particularly hard to defend Trump on a number of things.  Oh, and Pence seems to have learned from Trump how to flat-out lie with a straight face.  Again, not like any of this changes things, but insofar as it does, there’s some grist for the media to dig into on Pence’s clear lies about Trump’s record.

Yglesias‘ take captures a lot of what I seemed to be seeing on twitter:

When Kaine demanded that Pence defend Trump’s secrecy on his taxes, Pence ducked and talked about how low taxes are good for economic growth. When Kaine offered an extended list of Trump insults that he said he couldn’t believe Pence would defend, Pence didn’t defend them — he pivoted to complaining about Clinton and the “basket of deplorables.” Pence was tight, disciplined, and focused on his talking points. He never took the bait, never let himself get dragged into unfavorable terrain, and simply ignored subjects he didn’t want to discuss.

It was a genuinely bravura performance, one one that a passel of GOP senators and congressmen running in tough races ought to study. The problem is Trump is at the top of the ticket…

Kaine is running for VP, Pence is running for 2020

If Kaine and Pence had been debating for an Ohio senate seat, any fair-minded person would have to conclude that Pence won in a landslide. He was focused on his key points, while Kaine was focused on dragging the conversation into personal attacks on a man who wasn’t even standing on the stage.

The problem, obviously, is that they aren’t running for an Ohio senate seat.

They’re running for Vice President. Or at least Tim Kaine is. That’s why he loyally defended Clinton when Pence hit the Clinton Foundation issue instead of pivoting away to his own talking points. He played the somewhat awkward role of loyal number two. Pence, by contrast, focused on making Mike Pence look good and happily left Trump’s eccentricities on the cutting board.

And, Chait with an enjoyable take:

Tim Kaine and Mike Pence had very clear strategies in the vice-presidential debate, and followed them with robotic consistency. Kaine’s plan was to turn every question into a list of the horrendous things Donald trump has said or done. Pence’s plan was to turn every question into an attack on Barack Obama. The problem with Pence’s strategy is that Obama is popular and is not on the ballot, while Trump is highly unpopular and is on the ballot.

Pence provided an evening of escapist fantasy for conservative intellectuals who like to close their eyes and imagine their party has nominated a qualified, normal person for president. [emphasis mine]

Yeah, fun stuff, but I’ll be shocked if we’re still talking about any of it next week.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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