TV news talking heads will be arguing for days who had the worst night at the vice presidential debate: Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine or moderator Elaine Quijano of CBS News. While that gets sorted out, here are the top takeaways from Tuesday’s kerfuffle:
Audience’s deafening silence. In marked contrast to the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the audience in the hall at the veep smackdown did not provide much in the way of applause, jeering, laughter – OK, they did not provide any. Instead the crowd played strictly by the Make No Sound rule as laid out by Quijano. This might be the result of understandable confusion in the first stretch of the debate, as Pence and Kaine madly interrupted each other and talked over Quijano, making it virtually impossible to understand what the men were saying. It got so bad that Quijano was reduced to pleading: “Gentlemen, the people at home cannot understand either one of you when you speak over each other. I would please ask you to wait until the other is finished.” After that, audience napping seemed to set in, the same reaction to the festivities as that of Stephen Colbert’s debate focus group kittens.
And the winner is… We’ve come to expect the political parties to each declare its candidate the winner of a debate. Typically, however, they wait until it’s over. In keeping with this presidential race and its many “firsts,” the GOP declared Pence the winner more than an hour before the veep debate began. Pence won, his party boasted, by besting Kaine on the economy and “highlighting Hillary’s scandals.” Once sharp-eyed journalists spotted the premature post, the party took it down and, where it once sat, the GOP now says smugly, “What do Hillary Clinton and this link have in common? They’re both ‘dead broke.'”
Donald Trump’s painfully shy tax returns. Kaine inevitably turned the conversation to The New York Times report that Trump claimed a loss of nearly $1 billion in 1995 and therefore could have avoided paying federal income tax for nearly two decades. When Pence insisted Trump’s “tax returns showed he went through a very difficult time, but he used the Tax Code just the way it’s supposed to be used and he did it brilliantly,” Kaine shot back: “How do you know that? You haven’t seen his tax returns.”
Pence zingers. Most pundits agree that Pence got off most of the night’s best lines. They include: “Let me say, at the risk of agreeing with you, community policing is a great idea.” Also: “Come on, senator. That was even beneath you and Hillary Clinton. And that’s pretty low,” and, “Did you work on that one a long time? Because that had a lot of creative lines in it.” Pence also tested a “Well, there you go again” tribute to Ronald Reagan, but it fell absolutely flat.
Mount Rushmore. Kaine, after describing Clinton’s plan to defeat terrorists, contrasted it with Trump’s “personal Mount Rushmore” of dictators he admired, including Muammar Gaddafi, Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin and Saddam Hussein.