After cringing through the first presidential debate like we would a scary movie, we figured that at least the vice presidential debate would offer a bit of relief. And it delivered. It was still painful at times—most notably, the 70 plus timesthat Senator Tim Kaine interrupted Governor Mike Pence. Yet amid the frequent interruptions and occasional obfuscations, there was more than a modicum of substance.
Focus group guru, Frank Luntz, found that viewers overwhelmingly thought Governor Pence won the debate. He was more serious, measured, presidential, etc. At the same time, not a single one of them said that the outcome swayed their vote for president. This reinforces the sentiment expressed by Dan McLaughlin that Pence beat Kaine and Kaine beat Trump. Pence had the upper hand, but could not defend the indefensible in his ticket-mate. There is only so much rescue workers can do for a someone who is drowning and insists that he doesn’t help.
Governor Pence clearly won the debate. He landed serious blows against Hillary Clinton and (mostly) refused to be baited by Senator Kaine’s inflammatory rhetoric. Kaine’s conspiratorial insinuations about Trump’s connections to Russia and gross defamations of Trump’s character were clearly in poor taste. There is much not to like about Trump, but Kaine still overstated his case and beclowned himself as a result. In fact, Kaine’s eagerness to fulfill his role of ad hominemattack dog made his demeanor seem eerily similar to that of Trump. When Pence shook his head in response, most of America likely shook their head with him.
That said, Pence was also likely using his gestures to express disapproval of Kaine’s comments without having to make a verbal defense of many of Trump’s comments. That is the beauty of gestures. They are open to interpretation. Most of the torrent of criticisms spewed by Kaine at Trump were valid. Many of the comments that Trump has made—whether about John McCain, women, Mexicans, etc.—are intolerable. The fact that he has refused to apologize for any of his remarks is inexcusable.
That said, crass comments do not make or break campaigns. The American people do not care as much about words as they do about action. Who will right the ship? Kaine more often than not chose to rehearse the litany of Trump insults, rather than adequately defend the record of Secretary Clinton. Everybody already knows about Trump’s offensive comments. They are willing to suffer an offensive president who actually gets results. I am dubious about Trump in that regard, as well, but the bar has been set so low by the present administration that I believe there is even room for improvement with Trump.
Despite Pence’s heroics tonight, the only man who can save Trump is Trump. He must improve on his past debate performance by actually studying, rehearsing, and, for God’s sake, showing a little humility. Owning one’s mistakes and being deferential toward subject matter experts are essential traits for the presidency. The lack of personal responsibility, in particular, is why Americans are so distrustful of Clinton. She spits on our hamburger and tells us it’s mayonnaise. She does things that are unethical, if not illegal, and makes no effort at contrition.
Let’s assume, however, that Secretary Clinton is going to win the presidency. The latest polls are showing a post-debate bounce for Clinton. Could this debate have ramifications for 2020? Pence looked more presidential than either presidential candidate. There are likely a lot of Americans who are experiencing buyer’s remorse in their chosen presidential candidates. Might Pence be banking on that fact?
No need to ask him. He’ll likely just shake his head.
Stephen Roberts is an Army Reserve chaplain, writer and evangelist living near Milwaukee. He is a regular contributor to Political Storm.
Photo Credit: Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com