VP Debate Postmortem: Unflappable Pence Won Against Smug Kaine

Who won the vice presidential debate?

The answer depends on what criteria you feel like applying. I happen to think Mike Pence won, based generally on the way he came across on TV compared to his opponent, Democrat Tim Kaine. Why? Because on TV, Kaine’s behavior was rude, intolerant and disruptive, and his demeanor was smug. What did the Pakistani taxi driver say on “Seinfeld”? I believe it was “smugness is not a good quality.” And he was right.

Based on Kaine’s performance Monday night, and Hillary Clinton’s first debate last week with Donald Trump, you might come to the conclusion that the Democratic debate strategy consists of ridiculing their opponents, repeating certain messages over and over again regardless of context (or a moderator’s questions), and smiling idiotically through most of it -- whether or not the moment calls for such a carefree, lighthearted facial expression.



By contrast, Pence came across as serious, calm, thoughtful and unflappable. And let’s face it: He had the tougher job -- defending Trump.

Kaine challenged him repeatedly (and smugly) on the many controversial utterances that have emanated from the Republican presidential nominee ever since he announced his candidacy in June 2015. Incredibly, Pence parried just about every one of them and in the process, managed to stick up for Trump and also maintain his own integrity -- which was no mean feat.

Although Trump is an easier target than Clinton, Pence’s attacks on the Democratic presidential nominee, in which he focused frequently on questions about her effectiveness as Secretary of State, scored points for the Republican side.

In reply, Kaine’s assertions that the Iran nuclear deal, for example, represents the world’s best chance for peace in the Middle East rang hollow. It’s the kind of statement a politician makes that causes ordinary people watching at home to scratch their heads in wonder at the bottomless capacity of politicians to frame situations in any way they please, as long as it serves the politicians’ interests.

Pence also repeatedly accused Kaine and Clinton of running a smear campaign based largely on attack advertising and insults. This may or may not be true, but Pence’s strategy here, combined with the demeanor he adopted on TV, was effective enough to paint the Democrats as taking a lower road in the campaign than the Republicans -- another feat that was not easy to accomplish.

In giving Pence a victory in Tuesday night’s debate, let it also be said that this 90-minute face-off was in many ways a tiresome affair. Sitting through it was a tough slog. 

There is something off-putting about watching two people greet each other cordially, state that they each respect the other, and then proceed to tear into each other for an hour-and-a-half. In this regard, Kaine was the more off-putting of the two. He interrupted Pence more or less constantly, starting very early in the debate.

If someone did this to you in real-life in, say, a business meeting or over the dinner table, you would think this person was the world’s biggest jerk. Based on the way he acted in last night’s debate, there’s no reason why one shouldn’t think the same of Kaine.

Why couldn't he have kept his mouth shut while his opponent spoke, no matter how much he disagreed with him? Instead, Kaine tried over and over again to ride roughshod over Pence -- in much the same way perhaps that opposing viewpoints get shouted down these days on college campuses.

The debate’s moderator, Elaine Quijado of CBS News, tried her best to control the debaters when they evaded questions, went long or interrupted each other. And she did better than Lester Holt did last week with Trump and Clinton, probably because the presidential candidates are more difficult to rein in than their vice presidential running mates.

Moderating these televised debates is really a thankless job anyway. It’s like being named host of the Academy Awards. It’s great exposure, but it is always followed by an avalanche of post-show criticism (or these days, in-show criticism via Twitter). There is almost no way a debate moderator can avoid it.

Nor can a moderator do much about it when a debate participant decides beforehand that his strategy will consist of interrupting his opponent’s statements as often as possible, as Kaine did in this debate. That showed disrespect for Pence, the moderator and viewers watching at home -- a disrespect trifecta for the Democratic nominee for vice president.

12 comments about "VP Debate Postmortem: Unflappable Pence Won Against Smug Kaine".
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  1. Jerry Gibbons from Gibbons Advice, October 5, 2016 at 1:41 p.m.

    Sad, but true.  Kaine had important things to say but his demeanor and lack of respect was terrible.
    Missed opportunity.  The way he acted was almost like a Trump in Kaine clothing.

  2. Phillip Nones from Mullin/Ashley Associates, Inc., October 5, 2016 at 2:02 p.m.

    I agree.  I came away from this debate with the sad realization that we have just one "mature adult" running on the two presidential tickets this year.  One out of four candidates -- how pitiful is that?  I'm old enough to remember when 4-for-4 was more typical.

  3. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, October 5, 2016 at 2:41 p.m.

    Adam:  Your Republican proclivities are showing. 
    The continually smirking Mike Pence seemed to even outdo "lying Ted Cruz" with his rejection of the facts thrown at him regarding his own and Trump statements (they are on tape!) during the campaign along with his disrespectful head shaking (which merely underlined his inabiity to accept the truth and consequently his complete lack of trustworthiness).  
    If you want to suggest that Kaine often appeared somewhat self righteous rather than "smug", OK even though the fact checkers would totally agree on the majority of his many assertions. Regarding Kaine being "rude, intolerant and disruptive" if you were truly an unbiased columnist I would suggest that that description could be applied to both candidates. 
    The real story of this debate were not merely the lies and inuendos of Pence but the many opposite positions he expressed on major issues compared to his runnin mate, Trump.  Republicans must be even more confused although the ultra conservatives will no doubt be delighted with Pence's initial run for 2020! 
    In fairness to all Media Post's readers there should be a Democratic response to your inapropriate and biased column. 

  4. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development replied, October 5, 2016 at 3:19 p.m.

    Tony, be honest, if FDR wrote thsi column you would have called him a Republican. The fact is, most of the news network pundits, pretty much no matter their personal political persuasion, felt Pence acquitted himself better than Kaine, even if only on style. I thought his constant instant interrupting or attempts at same negated his "nice guy" image. Too bad, since anything that might remotely boost Trump is truly horrific.

  5. Phillip Nones from Mullin/Ashley Associates, Inc. replied, October 5, 2016 at 3:25 p.m.


    You just wrote it.

  6. Michael Pursel from Pursel Advertising, October 5, 2016 at 5:06 p.m.

    Adam.  just like on most cable news, if you don't say all bad things about trump, then you are stupid, uninformed.  I 've read your columns where I would swear you are liberal.  Go figure.  I hear quite often Trump supporters drink koolaid, are white - uneducated.  But the progressives are the most closed minded I've met.

  7. Chuck Lantz from, network, October 5, 2016 at 5:15 p.m.

    If Trump and Pense can get the trains to run on time, that's really all that matters to me. 

  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 5, 2016 at 5:39 p.m.

    Although it may not "count", monsters are usually unflappable and calm. Kaine wasn't smug, he was sick and tired of the fascists continually trying to hurt people and did not express himself as well as he should have.

  9. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, October 5, 2016 at 5:39 p.m.

    Chuck:  Be careful with that.  Il Duce (Mussolini) had the trains running on time!

  10. Marla Goldstein from Around The Bend Media, October 5, 2016 at 9:33 p.m.

    Actually, Pence did not try to stick up for Trump. In fact, he ran as fast as he could in the other direction. What we saw last night was Mike Pence auditioning for the Republican nomination for 2020.

    In many ways, Pence is far more scary than Trump is. Trump will say anything, take any side of any position. Pence, OTOH, is a theocrat who bills himself as a Christian first and an American second. He is far more dangerous than Trump is, any day of the week.

    He refused to be pinned down on Trump's many, many lies even when there is tape of Trump saying these hateful things.

    In the long run, it matters not. The VP debates don't change any voters' minds. The big show will be on Sunday night.

    And Adam? Please stick to TV criticism. You're out of your depth when it comes to politics.

  11. Michael Pursel from Pursel Advertising, October 6, 2016 at 12:36 p.m.

    See Adam?  Liberals say we should all get along and accept all views and opinions, so long as they jive with the liberal spin. Very tolerant.   You keep going.  When the pot gets stirred, the soup tastes better!

  12. Chuck Lantz from, network replied, October 6, 2016 at 5:08 p.m.

    Tony:  That was my point. ;)

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