Vice Presidential Debate Live-Journal

By Zack Boehm on October 4, 2016

It was no secret that tonight’s Vice Presidential debate wouldn’t provide the kind of drama and spectacle that we’ve become accustomed to this election cycle. Instead of Trump’s reliably erratic bombast, we returned to something resembling an orthodox encounter between political adversaries. Yes, both Tim Kaine (dad who insists on discussing playing time with little league coach) and Mike Pence (Men’s Warehouse catalog model) were considered boring VP selections, but by November, one of these two men will be one tragic turn away from the Presidency. Which is to say, it’s important to hear what they have to say about important issues. Or at least I thought so. So I went ahead and live-journaled the whole thing.

8:32 pm: Tuned in to the CNN preshow. As someone who doesn’t generally look to cable news as a primary (or secondary or tertiary) source for information, this panel format always strikes me as kind of bizarre. Cram seven people behind a desk and have them compete for air time, talking over and past each in this weird pseudo debate scrum. It’s like bad argument at a family gathering that you just kind of want to slink away from. Although Coop (The ageless, elfin Anderson Cooper) redeems the whole affair just by standing there and radiating a warm silvery grace.

8:47: The panel seems to think it’d be a good idea for Pence to tell some personal stories about his blossoming relationship with the Trump family, the idea being that this would be a good opportunity to humanize Trump. Yeah, maybe. But it isn’t it discomfiting that we’re casually discussing the fact that it’s a month away from the election and we’re not totally convinced of Trump’s humanity?

8:56: Coop’s elegant style, sharp comportment, and sophisticated incorporation of spectacles makes the whole idea of aging a lot more palatable.

8:59: Get me out of this panel purgatory.

9:00: Cutting directly from Coop to Wolf Blitzer is hilariously unfair to Wolf.

9:02: The Candidates make their distinguished walk to the stage and then just kind of plop down in goofy swivel-chairs.

9:07: There’s a kind of refreshing sense of old-school cordiality between the candidates as they both begin the debate with pretty strong, clearly rehearsed answers to Elaine Quijano’s first question.

9:10: Kaine seemed like a relatively banal pick for Clinton, but it’s becoming clearer why she tipped him. He appears to really relish being her cheerleader/chief attack dog. He also follows the same “affable everyman” role that Biden filled so effectively.

9:12: Pence says the Clinton campaign has been an “avalanche of insults”… I genuinely think he’s never seen Trump’s Twitter account.

9:15: Maybe framing a debate as an “open discussion” isn’t the most prudent move. Candidates constantly interrupting each other.

9:16: That cordiality, yeah, it didn’t last.

9:18: Pence is pretty strong on the economy, inasmuch as he can tout some specious economic arguments while seeming credible.

9:19: “Do you want a ‘you’re fired’ plan, or do you want a ‘you’re hired’ plan?” Kaine asks. The Clinton campaign really needs to put the kibosh on the witticisms.

9:21: Pence has resting “I’m so disappointed in you” face. Probably an appropriate demeanor for a Trump VP.

9:23: “You can roll out the numbers, but people in Scranton know different” Pence says. Anti-intellectualism is core to his economic arguments.

9:25: Pence is so weak answering questions about Trump’s taxes. Absolutely flailing, it’s gotta be embarrassing for him. Kaine’s attacks are obvious but they’re scathing. “He’s going to release his tax returns when the audit is over.” Yeesh.

9:30: I wonder what Coop thinks about all of this.

9:35: Pence just explicitly said that we need to stop accusing police forces of institutional racism. “When African-American police officers are involved in the shooting of an African-American, how can Hilary Clinton bring up bias?” he asked. Just a total misunderstanding of what how institutional bias metastasizes throughout institutions, regardless of the individual.

9:42: Pence finally brings up the “basket of deplorables.” It’s astounding that it’s taken one and a half debates for this to come up. I’d almost forgotten about it. I think it shows a serious paucity of political acumen that it’s taken so long for them to try and capitalize on one of Clinton’s only real gaffes.

9:46: Kaine has been taking up Trump’s interrupter mantle all night. It seems like a deliberate strategic move but I’m not sure how well it’ll play. Trump supporters will definitely revel in the fact that they can finally accuse a political opponent of being obtrusive.

9:50: Kaine, and the Clinton campaign in general, has always been at their best when simply reciting Trump’s words back verbatim. There’s absolutely no convincing retort that Pence can muster.

9:52: Pence’s revisionism on Iraq is crazy. His conception of history seems to be that we won the initial war without significant difficulty or consequence, and that failed negotiations and management on the part of the Obama administration were the only direct antecedents to the rise of ISIS. Maybe some of his supporters will buy that, but it’s patently insane. Pence’s ardor for the Iraq war also chafes against his running mate’s (er, false) claim that he didn’t support the invasion. But, I mean, I guess the Trump campaign has more pressing problems to address than message coherence.

10:00: I disagree with nearly everything Pence is saying but he is SO MUCH MORE competent than Trump. If Trump was asked specific questions about no-fly zones in Syria it would be an abject disaster. Pence can, at the very least, articulate a response.

10:04: The way Kaine keeps invoking Raegan makes me uncomfortable as a progressive. I get the political calculus—he’s trying to attract disaffected republicans—but I don’t like our only viable left-of-center ticket valorizing Reagan Conservatism.

10:05: It seems like Pence’s plan is to simply act disgusted/dismissive whenever Kaine makes obvious attacks against Trump’s character. In a way, it works. The conversation moves on. But it’s also hilarious to see Pence try and dismiss the asinine things Trump has said.

10:10: Pence just said “this isn’t the old days where you can just say stuff and people will believe it.” I mean… come on… does he have no sense of irony?

10:15: Extensive talks about Russia. Putin probably loves the fact that there’s an entire segment in a major vice presidential debate devoted to talking about him. This is the kind of exertion of soft power that he thrives on. Dude is a cold war thinker and we’re kind of servicing him here.

10:17: It took nearly two full debates for Trump/Pence to bring up the Clinton Foundation, which is one of the main sources of her popular distrust. But here’s the thing, nobody has ever found any creditable examples of malfeasance perpetrated by the foundation. In fact, it’s one of the most successful charity organizations in history.

10:20: I wish there was a box in the bottom corner of the screen showing Coop’s real-time reactions.

10:24: Kaine fails to talk about how he reconciles his faith with his pro-choice political stance, when the moderator seemed to be setting him up to talk about that specific topic in detail. It’s worth nothing that he was something of a late-adopter of both pro-choice and LGBTQ rights positions.

10:27: Lots of scripture quoting going on. Makes me queasy.

10:35: As the debate ends, both candidates explain that they’re confident that they’ll be able to unify the country if elected. If this debate, and this entire election cycle, has shown us anything, it’s that there are serious fissures in the American polity that can’t be remedied over the course of one or two terms. It’s nice to think that we’ll all come together again after November, but this election has revealed how fractious our politics have really become. These aren’t problems of ideology or policy disputes, they’re problems of identity anxiety. There’s a profound fear of change that can’t be assuaged by any one president. But the country won’t stop changing, so either these problems will continue to grow in extremity, or we’ll do some serious collective introspection and decide that a shifting world doesn’t actually portend disaster.

10:47: Back to you, Coop.

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