Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Who Won the Vice Presidential Debate?

Who won the Vice Presidential debate between Mike Pence and Tim Kaine? It depends on which scorecard you are using.

On optics versus substance, Mike Pence "won." Tim Kaine challenged Pence all night to defend all of the outrageous things Donald Trump has said during the campaign. Pence didn't even try. Kaine appeared aggressive. Pence appeared unflappable. Advantage Pence.

On substance versus optics, Tim Kaine "won." Donald Trump really did say all of those outrageous things Tim Kaine said he did. Pence didn't even try defending Trump. Worse, he denied Trump said many of the things that anyone paying a lick of attention in the last year knows Trump did, in fact, say. Advantage Kaine.

On how the public viewed it, we have to wait for the polls. An instant poll by CNN showed Pence edging Kaine in the eyes of viewers. No surprise that it was optics over substance. On the other hand, a CNN focus group of undecided voters gave the win to Kaine.

On how the campaigns privately scored it, we can only guess. The Clinton campaign was probably pleased that Kaine was so dogged in keeping the focus on Donald Trump. The Trump campaign was probably pleased that Pence refused to defend the indefensible. But some of the pundits said that whereas Pence won the debate, Trump lost it. Pence upstaged the top of the ticket. So even though the Trump campaign might have been pleased with the outcome, Trump himself might have been irritated at Pence's performance.

Finally, on how the debate will affect the polls, time will tell. It could be that Pence stopped the bleeding. That's a win for Pence and Trump. It also could be that Pence didn't do anything to win over many undecided voters or any Clinton voters at all. Given that Clinton leads the polls, that's a win for Clinton.

So, like I asked, who won? That depends on the scorecard you are using.

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