If the trolls on Twitter had to pronounce a verdict on the only Vice-Presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle, their reaction is likely to be: Yawn.
There was little to elevate the 90-minute exchange between Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine into the realm of reality entertainment. That’s in contrast to the Presidential debate, which was nasty.
But, if there is derision for this debate, it’s probably because American voters aren’t quite accustomed to an actual discussion instead of a byte-infused hate-fest. At one point, Kaine spoke about “dramatically expanding our intelligence capacities” and that phrase may well be applicable to this particular debate.
If the debaters at Hofstra University in New York, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, could barely disguise their loathing for each other, the two participants at Longwood University in Virginia were unable to hide their mutual respect.
Of course, both debaters constantly shoehorned talking points into their responses despite the question having little relevance to that. Kaine focused on Trump’s tax returns and his foul-mouthed follies, while Pence went at Clinton’s missing emails and a legacy that has left a world battered by terrorism.
You could argue that the actual winner of the debate was moderator Elaine Quijano of CBS News, the first-ever Asian American to be art of the debate schedule, as she overcame an initial issue with controlling interruptions to taking charge of the conversation and trying to keep the debaters honest, or as forthright as a politician can be. That’s always difficult as exemplified by Pence’s accusing the Clinton campaign of indulging in an “avalanche of insults”. But at least Quijiano kept her questioning on point and even addressed Clinton’s emails and the Clinton Foundation, matters that have been at the forefront of this year’s campaign but were curiously absent from the first Presidential debate.
As for Pence and Kaine, they defended their positions adequately and almost managed to make positions taken by Trump and Clinton appear plausible. It was also clear why they were chosen to be part of the ticket. Kaine brings a centrist weight to a ticket that may have tilted too far to the left with Clinton having to pander to Bernie Sanders’ disaffected supporters, and Pence brings in gravitas and executive experience that Trump lacks, to make an understatement.
Though this was a honourable draw in terms of the participants at the table, Pence may have been more effective in his presentation of Trump’s case than Kaine was in talking up Clinton. CBS News’ focus group at the end of the debate was heavily tilted towards Pence, even though the sample of 27 was nearly equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. Part of the reason was that Pence came across as more mature, at times dominant, while Kaine seemed to concentrate on gotcha gambits and his childish chirping at the outset may have been offputting.
For Indians who have been obsessing with the tensions across the Line of Control in recent days, there was the missing link – just as in the first Presidential debate, it never made a ripple in the sea of topics, many of which related to foreign policy and even to nuclear arms.
Vice-Presidential debates have little impact on how an election turns out. Though, as with Joe Biden in 2012, Pence managed to regain some ground for the ticket. But, as was mentioned earlier, he and Kaine came across as reasonable men in a season where rancour has ruled.
One consolation for the American voters given their general distaste for the Presidential nominees is that regardless of who occupies the White House next, adult supervision may just be a heartbeat away. The bad news, though, is that there are still two Presidential debates remaining and we will hear far too much from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, beginning this Sunday.