Who won the vice presidential debate? If we have to pick one snooze over the other
Appearance-wise, Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine and Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence both look like pretty mellow dudes. That being said, at Tuesday night’s first and only vice presidential debate, Kaine and Pence made it plenty clear they did not come to play, as they spent the night trading savage blows. But as with all debates, it must be asked who actually won the vice presidential debate?
Kaine and Pence reportedly prepared for the evening relatively similarly, each practicing with mock stand-ins for their opponent. Kaine duked it out with Robert Barnett, a high-profile Washington lawyer, standing in as Pence. They probably focused on the issues of immigration, tax plans, the Syrian refugee crisis, and, ah, of course, Republican nominee Donald Trump’s famous temperament (or lack thereof), given Kaine’s hardest hitting jabs of the evening focused on these topics. Meanwhile, Pence had mock debates with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who, apparently, is alive and well (in case anyone still cares).
Most Americans evaluate who won a debate based on the candidates’ appearances, mannerisms, and how many fiery zingers and clap backs they manage to hit their opponent with. Level-headedness and confidence are valid measures for a candidate’s performance, but it should also be noted how well they refute their opponent’s claims, expose serious flaws in their policy ideas, and how well they make the case for their own, all while answering the questions being asked, politely not interrupting, and keeping calm.
In this sense, while Pence delivered a respectable performance driving home key Republican talking points (lowering taxes, throwing out criminal immigrants destroying the economy, etc., etc.), Kaine came out the night’s winner.
To be fair, Kaine had a slightly easier job when it came to defending his ticket’s presidential candidate, who tends to say less random offensive things on a daily basis. Meanwhile, all night, Pence was disadvantaged by the frankly crippling obligation that is defending Donald Trump’s bigoted, immature statements and record of fraud. And Kaine did not make his situation any easier by consistently throwing Trump’s record of offensiveness and outrageousness in Pence’s face and keeping the Republican vice presidential candidate on the defensive.
“Look for Donald Trump apologizing to John McCain for saying he’s wasn’t a hero. Did Donald Trump apologize for calling women are slobs, pigs, dogs, disgusting? Did Donald Trump apologize for taking after somebody in a Twitter war and making fun of her weight?” Kaine asked Pence, fully aware of the answer to these questions. “Did Donald Trump apologize for saying African Americans are living in hell? Did Donald Trump apologize for saying President Obama was not even a citizen of the United States? You will look in vain to see Donald Trump ever taking responsibility for anybody and apologizing.”
While other contentious, hotly debated topics of the night included immigration and domestic economic programs like social security, tuition-free public college, and gun control, and which presidential candidate has been more “insulting” (yes, apparently after all that’s been said and done, this is still being debated), hot topics like the Syrian refugee crisis and racial bias and policing allowed Kaine to work in ferocious criticisms of Trump and Pence which, unlike Pence, he managed to back up with evidence in the Republican ticket’s record.
“Hillary and I want to do enforcement based on if people are dangerous,” Kaine said. “These guys say all Mexicans are bad … Donald Trump says keep them out if they’re Muslim. Mike Pence put a program in place to keep them out if they’re from Syria, and yesterday, an appellate court with three Republican judges struck down the Pence plan and said it was discriminatory.”
Kaine also dealt blows to the Trump ticket on the very sensitive issue of Trump’s relationship with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, as Trump’s apparent economic dependence on Russian elites raised many questions about the Republican nominee’s financial standing earlier this year.
At the end of the day, though, given how Trump’s campaign has focused so strongly on worshipping law enforcement, Kaine’s hardest hit came with this quote on racial bias in policing: “People shouldn’t be afraid to bring up issues of bias in law enforcement. If you’re afraid to have the discussion you’ll never solve it.” Kaine’s impressive defense of the work police do also served to appeal to more moderate voters.
Following the first presidential debate, CNN polling found that 62 percent of voters who watched thought Clinton had won, while just 27 percent thought Trump did. This staggering 35 percent difference ranked among the highest disparity in history, FiveThirtyEight noted. Polling has yet to reveal who Americans think won the vice presidential debate, and how public opinion of the vice presidential debate is likely to affect Clinton and Trump’s numbers.