Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine stood toe-to-toe for 90 minutes in the lone vice presidential debate of the 2016 election. I watched, tweeted and took some notes on the best and the worst of the night that was. There was a lot more bad than good.
My picks are below.
* Mike Pence: From the very beginning, Pence was the more comfortable of the two men on the debate stage. Pence repeatedly turned to the camera when he answered questions, making clear he understood that the real audience wasn't in the room but watching on TV. The Indiana governor was calm, cool and collected throughout — a stark contrast to the fast-talking (and seemingly nervous) Kaine. Did Pence respond to Kaine's dozens of attacks on Donald Trump? Only sort of. What Pence seemed to be doing was making the case for Pence-ism, a, dare I say it, compassionate conservatism — a case for Pence 2020 or 2024. Regardless, Trump will very much take it, as Pence's performance will offer a reset of sorts for a campaign that is scrambling badly due to self-inflicted wounds from the nominee. Win or lose next month, Pence did himself real good in the eyes of the Republican world on Tuesday night.
* Orioles vs. Blue Jays: For most of the 95 minutes or so that the debate lasted, it was borderline unwatchable. There was so much cross talk and so little actual question-answering that it felt like watching two kids throw mashed potatoes at each other. (Actually, watching two kids throw mashed potatoes at each other would have been a heck of a lot more entertaining.) If you could (and I couldn't), searching for something else to watch seemed like a pretty good option. Enter the American League wild card game.
* People who want to end VP debates: I am not actually sure if these people existed before tonight but I can assure you they will exist after it. Remember that there wasn't even a vice presidential debate until 1976, and even after that there was no vice presidential debate in 1980! We could Make America Great Again by going back to the way things were back then.
* Joe Biden: Uncle Joe, he of the last two VP debates, had to be watching this whole sordid affair and thinking: "Man, I could run circles around these guys." And, if he wasn't thinking it, I was.
* Tim Kaine: Someone must have told the Virginia senator he needed to always be on his front foot in the debate, always be the aggressor. It didn't work. Kaine started the debate talking so quickly and trying to load so many Trump attacks into every answer that it made it virtually impossible to grasp any one attack. In the middle of the debate, Kaine seemed to relax into it — delivering an effective attack on Trump's comments on women. But that Kaine was the exception, not the rule. When he wasn't trying to stuff 10 pounds of attack in a five-pound bag in his answers, he was relentlessly interrupting Pence. Every single time Pence started to level an attack against Hillary Clinton, Kaine immediately began to talk over him. I'm not sure if that was on purpose or not, but it didn't come across well — at all. One glaring example: As Pence was recounting his personal experience on Sept. 11, 2001, Kaine interrupted to say, "I was in Virginia." Um, okay. Not a good look.
* Elaine Quijano: I root for the moderators in these debates because they have a next-to-impossible job. But Quijano lost control of the debate within minutes of it starting and never really got it back. She seemed to dole out 20 seconds here and 30 seconds there for Pence or Kaine or both to respond to each other with no rhyme or reason. She never was able to get Kaine or Pence to, well, stop talking. Then there was the fact that she didn't seem to follow the flow of the debate; Kaine and Pence would be feuding about, say, tax returns, and Quijano, after getting the two men to stop talking, would say something like, "Let's talk about North Korea."
* The American public: I am not big on declaring that this or that thing was bad for the electoral process and/or democracy. After all, America has weathered a lot in our time as a nation. But, holy cow, was that debate a) hard to watch and b) super depressing. Constant interruptions — especially by Kaine. A total refusal to answer questions. Unsubstantiated statements galore — especially by Pence. I found myself wishing it were over about 10 p.m. — and I love this stuff more than anyone I know. What must the average voter have been thinking?
Republican National Committee press office: Ninety minutes before the debate actually started, the RNC posted — presumably accidentally — a blog post declaring Pence the winner. Of course they were going to declare him the winner no matter what, but watching how the sausage gets made is never the sort of thing people like to do.
* The debate stage background (again): Look. Am I the only one who finds the Declaration of Independence — in cursive no less! — behind the candidates' heads as they debate distracting? I can't be the only one. I take it as my personal mission to rid the debate stage of this blight before the final two debates commence.
Read more about last night's debate: