On Tuesday, October 4th, the one and only vice presidential debate of 2016 took place in Virginia. The Republican candidate, Mike Pence, and the Democratic candidate, Tim Kaine, debated issues including the economy, discrimination, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. However, Pence and Kaine were but extensions of the presidential candidates themselves, as much of the discussion centered around the actions and beliefs of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
I interviewed some friends from multiple grades to see what they thought about the debate. Ria P. (’19) thought it was “Hillaryious” that two hours before the debate, the GOP website accidentally released a statement that Pence had clearly won the debate, listing his top moments as discussing the economy and Clinton’s scandals – before he had even done so. Unfortunately, a CNN poll conducted immediately after the debate indeed found that 48% of voters believed Pence had won, while only 42% thought Kaine won – despite Pence’s questionable defenses of Trump.
Ria argued that Kaine won, saying that “Tim Kaine won the debate because Pence wasn’t effectively able to match his running mate’s ideas, and contradicted Trump a lot. He also wasn’t answering anything Kaine said, like when he was asked about Trump’s racism.”
David W. (‘18) agreed that Pence contradicted Trump, giving the example of Syria – “Pence revealed his plan for dealing with the Syrian crisis with airstrikes, but then in the 2nd presidential debate Trump went back on that plan and basically exposed Pence. It was honestly a situation I don’t think has ever occurred, where the Presidential nominee openly disagrees with his VP and says that he never spoke with him.”
Ethan A. (’17) also spoke of this contradiction, and says that “this attests to a rift growing within the GOP that the Clinton campaign is going to attempt to draw out in the coming weeks.”
Ethan thought that “the debate was a sort of a wash, maybe leaning towards Pence. Despite playing it loose with the facts, I thought that Pence appeared very measured and thoughtful, a refreshing contrast from the style of his running mate. Pence did what Trump struggled to do, which is to deflect attacks on Trump’s record and levy ones on Hillary’s record, without getting bogged down in conspiracies or insults. I think both candidates landed some blows but Kaine seemed a little frenetic and Pence more subdued. I say a draw leaning towards Pence, but the fact checkers will really hurt Pence in the coming days.”
I, personally, think Kaine won because of the responsiveness of his arguments and his logos, but Pence won perceptively with ethos and pathos; in addition to Kaine’s now-infamous interruptions, Pence kept shaking his head, laughing, and scoffing during Kaine’s speech. In fact, Pence interrupted quite a bit too. However, instead of coming off as condescending and rude, Pence’s calm speaking style contrasted with how Kaine became visibly frustrated at Pence’s dodgy answers.
Appearances matter, especially in these debates, because many people at home don’t have an in-depth understanding of policy issues and current events. In fact, according to one news website, piecing together all the clips of Pence blatantly lying in the debate would result in a 15-minute video.
David agreed with me, saying that “I think Pence won stylistically, but Kaine won on substance. But since the media only focuses on appearance, they claimed Pence the overall victor, Victor!”
Kaine’s constant interruptions lowered his credibility. David says that, “I think it hurt Kaine’s persona as ‘America’s dad’ and allowed for people to view him on an equal footing as Trump. He should have stayed calm and collected.”
However, Ethan doesn’t think any newfound advantage for Pence will matter that much, remarking that “I think this debate was low stakes in comparison to the first presidential debate and probably didn’t change any minds.”
In fact, David thought that Kaine’s performance actually helped the Democrats, saying that “I thought that while Kaine’s interruptions hurt his own image, he helped the overall Clinton campaign because he reminded the public of all the bad things about Trump by interrupting – which set the stage for the leaked video and the 2nd presidential debate. Also I think that Pence cemented himself as the frontrunner for the 2020 Republican nominee by looking presidential during the debate.”
Elaine Quijano, the moderator, was unable to restrain Kaine, though not for lack of trying. Unfortunately, I noticed how the two white men kept speaking over the woman of color, which was especially ironic because Kaine accused Trump of racism and sexism, while he himself seemed rudely oblivious to his privilege. Much of the debate was the two vice presidential candidates yelling at each other while Elaine repeated, “Gentlemen, please.”
When asked about the lack of civility, Ria thought that the constant interruptions demonstrated the hostility of this year’s election, and she laughed at how Kaine kept repeating, “This is a discussion!” when Elaine tried to calm him down.
In fact, both Kaine and Pence went off on many tangents unrelated to Elaine’s questions. For example, at one point she had to remind them, “Gentlemen, I have to remind you both this was about North Korea,” because they kept arguing about whether the Trump foundation or the Hillary foundation was more charitable.
Overall, I thought the Vice Presidential Debate was a national embarrassment and a comic farce that does not bode well for the US alliance system. The last thing we need right now is for allies such as Japan to doubt our security guarantees because of two controversial Presidential candidates and, as we’ve seen in this debate, two vice presidential candidates lacking the restraint of middle schoolers to speak one at a time.