Most Think Pence Won, But Not By Much: Kaine's Sacrifice Put The Spotlight On The Trump Menace

10/05/2016 08:28 am ET Updated Oct 06, 2017
Tim Kaine, 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, from left, Mike Pence, 2016 Republican vice presidential nominee, and m
Tim Kaine, 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, from left, Mike Pence, 2016 Republican vice presidential nominee, and moderator Elaine Quijano sit during the vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. Indiana Governor Mike Pence and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine arrive at tonight's debate with three main assignments: defend their bosses from attack, try to land a few blows, and avoid any mistakes showing them unfit to be president. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This will be shorter than usual, because vice presidential debates don't matter nearly so much, witness Senator Lloyd Bentsen's annihilation of Senator Dan Quayle in 1988 with his "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" reference to Quayle, yet George H.W. Bush still beat Michael Dukakis.

Nonetheless, it was interesting to watch the rivals, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who were seated as opposed to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump standing at their lecterns last week. It was also intriguing to note the change in demeanor each candidate portrayed, and the main question is whether, as is often the case, style trumps substance (no pun intended).

I am unabashedly in support of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. That said, early on, I was, as any family member watching a loved one reveal some warts, a bit unsettled by Kaine's reactions and interruptions, often looking down, unhappily, as if he were scribbling ripostes. Was the audience listening to the words he spewed forth or simply how they came out, and that's a major point.

It's hard to know, so I was gratified to see Kaine become gradually more polite as the debate wore on and relieved as Pence interrupted his Democratic opponent during his responses.

What was clear, though, if people were listening carefully and more concerned about issues than disposition, is that Kaine often scored significant points reminding the viewer, whether or not they liked his delivery, that Donald Trump said many awful things about women and ethnic groups. He had caused major concerns regarding our foreign policy, whether withdrawing from NATO if they don't pay their bills or suggesting that South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia get nuclear weapons. To all this, Pence either out and out lied and insisted Trump hadn't said such a thing or totally deflected the question to get in a shot about Hillary.

The moderator, Elaine Quijano of CBS News, was often unable to stop either Pence or Kaine from interjecting or going on too long, though at times she reminded Pence a bit more that the governor hadn't answered the question she'd posed.

It was uncanny how Pence rarely defended his running mate when Kaine recited the litany of things Trump had said, from Mexican immigrants being drug dealers and rapists, to Blacks mostly living in poverty, to his slurs about women, to John McCain not being a war hero because he was captured. These were clearly indefensible things, and like any good prosecutor Kaine kept repeating the charges throughout the evening, after which a flustered Pence said rather incredibly that Kaine had "whipped out that Mexican thing again," insensitively making light of Trump's oft-cited racist remarks.

All this came at the end of the debate when Pence's true colors came out, in particular his Neanderthal stance on abortion. If people were still watching, and in particular women in the center, if there was any question about the sort of folks who might be leading our nation, just because Pence was generally unruffled his viewpoint was not the sort of stance that was going to move suburban independents back to the GOP fold.

So, the Kaine strategy probably did Hillary much more good, even if some people didn't like him as much as Pence. It's just too bad social issues were such a small part of the debate or Kaine might have raised his stock if he'd had the chance to reverberate Pence's anti gay postures regarding the governor's opposition to discrimination measures in his home state.

The upshot is Kaine's performance didn't harm Hillary and the debate may only have helped Pence bolster a political future with his right-wing base. However, let's remember who's at the top of the GOP presidential ticket. Unless Trump does an incredible transformation and Hillary has a meltdown, which is highly unlikely, the race may well be pretty much over at the end of their town hall meeting next Sunday in St. Louis, moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Michael Russnow's website is www.ramproductionsinternational.com