If you didn’t happen to watch the Vice Presidential Debate, you can check out my recap here. I wouldn’t call it must-see television, but it’s worth digesting what was said and some of the key moments.
What I want to talk about right now is the reaction to the debate.
The general consensus was that Mike Pence “won,” largely in part because he was more calm, cool and collected than Tim Kaine who interrupted him entirely too much. I will fully concede that point: If the only thing that matters is the optics of a debate (i.e. how someone presents themselves), then Pence “won” handily.
However, while Pence was clearly the more composed of the two men, if you’re judging who won the debate based on substance, then Kaine absolutely destroyed him.
The entire night Kaine fired off one comment after another, constantly pressing Pence to answer for things Trump has said or done, only for the Indiana governor to usually avoid actually defending his running mate (which is going to be a fairly big story, too), often simply denying that what Kaine was saying was true.
About halfway through the debate I joked on Twitter that Pence seemed to believe that shaking his head “no” whenever Kaine factually called out Donald Trump for something he had said or done magically made it not true. Hell, even when Kaine factually call out Pence for calling Putin a stronger leader than President Obama, the Indiana governor denied saying that as well.
When Kaine brought up the fact that Trump has said he wants to deport all illegal immigrants, Pence denied that was true. When Kaine brought up the fact that Trump once called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme,” Pence denied that was true. When Kaine brought up the fact that Trump said he wants more countries to have nuclear weapons, Pence denied that was true.
On and on it went like this for 90 minutes. Kaine continually brought up indisputable facts about Pence’s running mate, only to have Pence sit there with a sarcastic grin on his face, shaking his head “no” as if Kaine was making it all up.
Even when Trump’s taxes were brought up, Pence insisted that Trump would release his returns — just as soon as the IRS finishes its audit. An excuse that makes absolutely no sense considering the IRS has already publicly stated that Trump’s audit has nothing to do with his ability to release his tax returns.
Pence falsely claimed that only “10 cents on the dollar” raised by the Clinton Foundation goes to charity, when it’s more like 88 cents on the dollar raised by the foundation goes toward charitable causes.
The Indiana governor pushed the soundly debunked lie that President Obama and Hillary Clinton were responsible for our troops being removed from Iraq when, in fact, it was the SOFA agreement signed by Bush (the same one Cheney called a sign of success of the Iraq War), that set the date for when American forces had to be out of the country.
Which brings me to my point about how the VP debate proves why con artists so frequently get elected to our government. On a night when Mike Pence was as fact-free as Donald Trump, many polls, focus groups and media pundits declared him the “winner” — not because his substance was better than Tim Kaine’s — but because he “came off looking better.”
This is why our government is so awful. Far too often we ignore substance for what looks good.
Someone can “win” a debate (which can often help politicians win elections), not because they were factually sound or honest, but because they presented themselves better than their opponent.
This is how Donald Trump managed to become so successful this election. It didn’t matter during the GOP primary if he was clearly the least qualified candidate on that stage, he knew how to make himself stand out among the crowd and sell himself the best. Who cares if nearly everything out of his mouth is a lie, or that he’s so woefully incompetent he’s dangerous, he sold that “tough guy image” many Republican voters love.
In the long run, the VP debate isn’t going to matter all that much. It’ll be news for a few days, but it’ll be quickly forgotten. Especially considering how much praise Pence is getting from many conservatives. I can almost promise you that Trump is going to do something within the next day or so to bring the attention back on himself, because there’s no way he’s going to let his running mate outshine him.
But at the end of the day, Mike Pence was declared the “winner” of the debate, not because of the substance of anything he said — and it damn sure wasn’t because he was dealing with facts — but because he looked better than Tim Kaine did on Tuesday night.
Then again, it probably is really easy to relax and be composed when you’re well aware of the fact that you can say anything on that stage because your supporters are naive enough to believe every lie that comes out of your mouth.