Mike Pence and Tim Kaine got one shot on the big stage to make the case for their tickets. Were they effective? Will it matter?
Top takeaways from Pence vs. Kaine:
A moment in the vice presidential debate illuminated the division in the nation better perhaps than any other of the last week's presidential debate. In a conversation about the economy, Kaine attempted to make the case that the economy has been recovering under President Obama — 15 million jobs created, Kaine said, and median income is rising. Pence's reply was fascinating: "Senator, you can roll out the numbers and the sunny side, but I got to tell you, people in Scranton know different. People in Fort Wayne, Ind., know different. I mean, this economy is struggling." This is the core distinction of these campaigns: the Democrats' half-full take versus the Republicans' half-empty view of America, distilled in a few lines of a vice presidential debate.
Good luck transcribing this one
A debate with Pence and Kaine, the conventional thinking went, would be like a spirited but amiable discussion between two dads, with a heavy focus on policy. To be sure, the personal animus that clearly exists between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was not evident in the vice presidential debate, but that didn't stop the two running mates from repeatedly interrupting each other, particularly Kaine with Pence.
Early on, moderator Elaine Quijano said: "The people at home cannot understand either one of you when you speak over each other." Needless to say, though, it continued.
Who is the insulter-in-chief?
Kaine repeated over and over again his critique that Trump is running an "insult-driven campaign," reminding voters that Trump assailed the qualifications of an Indiana-born judge of Mexican descent and attacked a former Miss Universe for gaining weight.
But Pence clearly had practiced his riposte — that it's Clinton and Kaine who are the insulters. "The campaign of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine has been an avalanche of insults," Pence said. Trump's comments are "small potatoes" compared to Clinton's comment that Trump followers are a "basket of deplorables," Pence said. Kaine piped up that Clinton had apologized for that comment, but the Indiana governor argued that that didn't count because she was only apologizing for saying "half."
We're talking about practice
Trump was knocked last week for not being prepared for the opening presidential debate. It doesn't look like Kaine will face that same criticism.
The Democratic vice presidential nominee rattled off a litany of Trump's most controversial remarks and episodes during Tuesday night's vice presidential debate, repeatedly challenging Trump's running mate, Pence, to defend them while expressing his astonishment at how he would be able to.
During one long recitation of critiques of the GOP presidential nominee — he "trash talks the military"; he "loves dictators" and has a Mount Rushmore of his favorites — Pence interjected "Oh come on, come on."
After Kaine finished, Pence responded pointedly: "Did you work on that one a long time?"
Close your eyes and hear Ronald Reagan
Pence was doing his best Ronald Reagan imitation all night: the measured cadence, the slightly smoky voice, the perfect hair and the bedrock conservatism — all in sharp contrast to Trump. Pence even got in a hat tip to an iconic Reagan moment: In the 1980 presidential debate against Jimmy Carter, Carter excoriated Reagan for his record on Medicare, but Reagan defused the attack by turning to Carter and saying jovially, "There you go again."
On Tuesday, Kaine charged that Pence has been "the chief cheerleader for the privatization of Social Security. Even after President Bush stopped pushing for it, Congressman Pence kept pushing for it."
"There they go again, " Pence replied. "All Donald Trump and I have said about Social Security is we're going to meet our obligations to our seniors. That's it."
Keeping the faith
Pence and Kaine are both more outwardly religious than their running mates, and moderator Quijano smartly gave them an opportunity to talk about how their faith shapes their public policy. Kaine told the story of the challenge he faced as governor of Virginia implementing the state's death penalty despite his Catholic conviction that is it wrong. Kaine said he realized that he cannot impose his religious views on the people who elected him.
Pence, a born-again Christian, used his answer to discuss his views on abortion and commitment to defending the unborn. Did we mention he also invoked Reagan earlier in the debate? Not that he's thinking about 2020.
Game changer? Nah
Let's put it this way: If there are any undecided voters out there who ultimately cite the vice presidential debate as the moment that tipped the scales for them in choosing between Clinton and Trump, we'd like to meet them. That's not to say what transpired Tuesday night was unimportant: The Farmville, Va., debate was the biggest stage by far for Pence and Kaine to convince the American public they should be a heartbeat away from the presidency beginning Jan. 20, 2017.
It laid out clear distinctions on police shootings, on abortion, on tax policy and a range of other issues.
But will it ultimately affect the outcome of the November election? There's little evidence that's ever happened. Take the famous 1988 VP debate between Democrat Lloyd Bentsen and Republican Dan Quayle, which gave us one of the most memorable moments of any debate in American history with Bentsen's "you're no Jack Kennedy" takedown. Post-debate polls, not surprisingly, showed Bentsen was a clear winner. What happened a month later? Quayle's GOP ticket won 40 states.