In the age of the internet and 24-hour cable news, winners of political debates are often declared immediately. A week ago, Hillary Clinton was largely determined to be victorious in her first presidential debate against Donald Trump. And when it came down for the one-and-only vice presidential debate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence painted himself as the anti-Trump, which was a deceptive move, but (sadly) gave him an advantage over Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. Perhaps Clinton’s VP pick was instructed to be in full-on attack mode, but regardless of substance on the issues, Kaine simply didn’t perform as well as Pence did.
Pence gaslighted his way through fields of denial, but this lent him the appearance of winning the debate, and it probably did so at the expense of his running mate. Soon after the conclusion of the debate, word spread that Donald Trump felt like a bride who got showed up by her maid of honor. Yep, the theory — which reportedly came from a Trump advisor — holds that Pence may have angered his running mate by performing too well.
All of this begs a consideration of whether Pence (who is widely considered unremarkable) may have entered the debate with an ulterior motive. By nature, general elections don’t hinge upon the outcome of a VP debate, so in this way, both candidates could have arrived with the future in mind, should their candidate lose. Only Pence did so. Both men treaded unfamiliar territory at the debate, but Pence was looking out for Pence, and this may have worked out for him.
Tim Kaine Adopted An Unfamiliar ‘Attack Dog’ Role
Kaine is generally thought of as a fatherly figure, an affable fellow whose role alongside Clinton is the uncontroversial, scandal-free one. He was undoubtedly selected for this very reason, since Clinton carries such a long political history and is familiar to the public with unavoidable tinges of scandal that date back to her husband’s presidency. Whereas Kaine has generally been seen as an unassuming, folksy figure. On the campaign trail, he’s been wholly supportive, but in this debate, he came off looking like an attack dog.
Such a role would have been one that Elizabeth Warren has already played on a regular basis for Clinton, and she continues to do so without reservation, whereas Kaine has been a softer presence. He doesn’t appear comfortable lashing out in bold fashion, which may have been one reason why he came off as chief interrupter from the opening debate moments. Whereas Pence came off — in comparison — as relatively calm and polished.
This dichotomy was apparent throughout the evening, but especially so in the below video where Kaine rattled off the “Mount Rushmore of Dictators” that Donald Trump has expressed respect for. And all of this was true, but as Kaine rattled everything off, Pence simply shook his head as if everything Kaine said was a fantasy. He then denied and deflected. This pattern continued all night long. Kaine would attack, and Pence brushed off remarks and attempted to discredit them not through substance, but through his body language and demeanor.
Mike Pence Also Switched Approaches For The Night
Pence also didn’t completely act like the VP candidate we’ve seen on the campaign trail for the past few months. According to John Kasich a few months ago, Trump was offering his VP spot around for a political insider who was content to take on most of the presidential duties — as the most powerful VP in recent memory — while Trump planned on busying himself with the task of “Making America Great Again.” So, by extension, Pence was expected to do the heavy, thankless lifting in a behind-the-scenes manner.
But Pence broke character at the VP debate. He departed from his former role of acknowledging, but downplaying Trump’s ridiculous antics — such as his claim of securing 95% of black voters — with a chuckle and “that’s Donald Trump.” Pence usually never denies Trump’s rhetoric or actions, he simply agrees and lends validity to them in the eyes of the GOP voting base. But here, the Indiana governor swiftly set the mood for some hefty lying to the VP debate audience. He denied everything that was brought up as coming out of Trump’s mouth, from his disparaging comments about women to implicit bias in law enforcement. Even when Kaine explicitly quoted Trump’s messy back-and-forth on punishment for abortion, Pence simply went into denial mode and acted incredulous.
This was subtle, but nefarious. Pence took great care not to defend any of Trump’s outrageous statements and simply pretended like they did not happen. This video from The Briefing perfectly illustrates how Pence did so on the issues of immigration, abortion, nukes, and Vladimir Putin. What was Pence’s goal?
Pence May Be Preparing For His Own 2020 Campaign
One thing is extremely clear when it comes to Tim Kaine. He’s extremely loyal to Clinton, and at the debate he vociferously defended her at every opportunity. Pence did this too when he first joined up with Trump, but times have changed. With every consecutive Trump mess — and in the past week alone, the Alicia Machado and the tax-revelation scandals have been huge — Pence probably sees his chances at becoming VP slip away.
This presents a dilemma, for Pence racked up a stigma with establishment Republicans by signing up on the Trump ticket. And now that the real estate mogul is still alienating voters with one month until the election, Pence may be trying to pave his way back to the GOP establishment’s good graces. He could actually be positioning himself for a 2020 presidential run. Does that sound a little too far-fetched? Perhaps. But Kaine is all in for a Clinton win. That’s his goal, and he isn’t wavering. Whereas Mike Pence distanced himself from Trump’s divisive rhetoric by largely not defending it.
In this debate, Mike Pence took a chance on his future by shunning Trump’s rhetoric. Will the gamble pay off or blow up in his face? It’s far too late for Trump to shout, “You’re fired!” (and he can’t even do that now, due to The Apprentice trademark issues). He’s stuck with Pence as a running mate, and Trump — who could be reeling from a subtle, but telling betrayal — has less than a week to recover from this blow before the next debate. It’s a conundrum, but if Pence won this debate, he did so by making Trump the loser.