Four years ago, after President Obama’s listless first debate performance that allowed Mitt Romney to say whatever he wanted, Vice President Joe Biden stepped up in the second debate. My first line of a VP debate review I wrote for Construction Literary Magazine read, “As joltin’ Joe Biden’s performance came to a close on Wednesday night, the hibernating left emerged from their sweat-soaked covers and claimed what was once theirs: momentum.” Biden had recaptured said momentum by not allowing his opponent, Paul Ryan, any room to breathe. For nearly every point Ryan tried to make, Biden had a visible or audible reaction (and usually both). He knew when to interrupt, when to throw up his hands, when to use words like “malarkey,” and when to unleash his trademark Cheshire Cat grin.
It was largely seen as a successful debate for the Vice President, although my piece worried of its precedent for future debates. In last night’s debate, it seemed Tim Kaine tried to replicate Biden’s 2012 performance. I didn’t care for it. Senator Kaine, I’ve watched Joe Biden a long time. I feel like I know Joe Biden. I feel like Joe Biden is a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Joe Biden.
Nearly every media source today highlights Kaine’s relentless interruptions. Moderator Elaine Quijano had to call them to attention with “Gentlemen” 23 times. Pro-Trump website Breitbart counted 53 times Tim Kaine interrupted Mike Pence. The Daily Mail says it was 70. Whatever the number, Kaine embarrassed himself by his awful Biden impression, and most polls, like CNN’s, will find Pence’s superior temperament and manners helped him win the debate. Those who know Kaine will swear up and down that he’s one of Washington’s rare “nice guys.” I think he would have helped himself if he just was himself.
That’s not to say Pence was flawless. Though his outright interruptions were comparatively few, he found himself having to say, “No, no” every time Kaine dropped another Trump quote or position on him. Whether Pence was denying the veracity of the quotes or merely praying he wouldn’t have to answer for them is unclear. In fact, Pence rarely answered for his presidential nominee, apparently having well learned the Trump skill of ignoring the question that was asked and instead giving the answer his supporters want to hear. (For example, his response to the homegrown terror question was to talk about immigration and Syrian refugees.) That usually meant bringing up Hillary Clinton.
Frankly, I’ve already spent too much space talking about this. Pence’s superior performance at least gets the media to roll back its prosecution of Trump’s bad week for the next couple days, but last night will be forgotten by this weekend, when we endure our second presidential debate. Undecided voters didn’t make up their minds based on Kaine’s uncharacteristic rudeness and Trump attacks or Pence’s superior behavior and obfuscation skills.
Until next time.