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  • Ashok Dhillon

The Vice President’s Debate: Kaine vs. Pence (#16)


The debate of potential American Vice Presidents in the run-up to the Presidential elections is generally dissed by political pundits as of limited importance. Apparently not many potential voters are swayed one way or the other by the debating Vice President candidates. And that may be true for most VP debates. But this one may be a bit different, because for some reason in spite of the obvious unfitness of one Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, there are a large number of potential voters that are still backing him, to the obvious alarm of the rest of the World. This VP debate may have helped in highlighting the multitude of sins that Donald Trump is guilty of in vying for the haloed job, as the President of the most powerful nation, albeit an increasingly dysfunctional one. And therefore having a dysfunctional President (Donald Trump) lead an increasingly unstable and dysfunctional USA is terrifying for most sane people, inside and outside of it. So we turn to the potential VPs to solidify the positions of the potential Presidential candidates, their future bosses, and give us a clearer picture of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the future Presidents.

Going into the debate, for most that have followed the election campaign so far, were aware of Clinton’s and Trump’s main weaknesses, and vulnerabilities, to attack from the other side. So, it was not surprising to see Tim Kaine, the Democratic chosen running mate of Hillary Clinton, coming out vigorously attacking the abundance of weaknesses of his opponent’s running mate Donald Trump. And, it was therefore equally predictable that Mike Pence, the Republican running mate of Donald Trump, would be put on the defensive immediately, as he most certainly was, and spend most of his time in the debate trying to deflect and deny the barrage of accusations, criticisms, public positions and general unsuitability of his running mate.

The media consensus seems to be that overall Mike Pence won the debate through his calm deportment throughout the debate when attacked and repeatedly interrupted by Tim Kaine. If greater calmness and general unflappability was the winning criteria, then certainly Mike Pence was the steady and calm one. Tim Kaine had an over abundance of Trump’s real life gaffes and shockingly politically incorrect public statements, on record, (especially for a Presidential candidate) to work with, and he couldn’t wait to use them, or try and get an on TV admission of them by Mike Pence, which for the most part Pence refused to do.

That refusal to acknowledge, and if pressed too hard blatantly deny, openly known negative statements and positions of Trump’s, drove Kaine to exasperation and frequent interruptions, which the pundits took as a negative, describing Kaine as ‘over caffeinated’, ‘hyper chipmunk’, and such other descriptive behavioral tags.

In the early part of the debate Kaine was over anxious to score his well known, well documented, obvious points. Pence’s refusal to acknowledge, or deny, the well known damaging public statements of Donald Trump drove Kaine to periodic distraction. Later in the debate Kaine seemed to sense that his pressing Pence too hard was creating a negative impression, and he backed off some and became more measured. That stood him in good stead.

But this aspect of judging the debate, being primarily focused on the two men’s greater sense of calmness in the debate, is to judge it a bit superficially.

After all this debate is really about, or should be about, the overall abilities, experience, knowledge, track record, and temperamental fitness of the Presidential candidates themselves.

And there Kaine’s constant attacks (prosecutorial style called by some) of the very public shortcomings and faults of Donald Trump, forced Pence into the uncomfortable position of not being able to answer the questions at all, but having to evade or deny them altogether, or simply having to change the subject, almost constantly.

And therein lies the crux of the matter. If a Vice President running mate (Mike Pence) of a Presidential candidate (Donald Trump), is forced to evade, deny and/or repeatedly change the subject rather than answer the questions being asked, it’s not much of a substantive debate, but rather a study in evasion, deflection, denial and distraction. And there, Mike Pence did a good job for his multi flawed and unfit Presidential candidate.

Mike Pence ignored factual evidence of the unsuitability of his presidential candidate, offered his (theirs) own highly questionable policies as alternatives to the status quo that Hillary Clinton is supposed to represent, notwithstanding the fact that she will be the first woman President of the United States, which breaks from status quo rather dramatically, and quite audaciously as per Donald Trump style, turned reality on its head by accusing Hillary Clinton of running an ‘insult driven campaign’, when it is Donald Trump that is irrefutably the ‘king of insults’.

But then that was the debate. Pence denying reality and creating an alternative reality in which Donald Trump is a sane, brilliant businessman savior of a democratically destroyed America, and Hillary Clinton is a walking, talking, decades old disaster that will behave in the White House as a destructive Zombie of all tax raising, economy destroying, Democrats past.

If reality, and the objective of the debate is to be kept in mind, and one is not to be spun into the alternative make believe, ever changing, world of Donald Trump, then the debate was lost by Pence, as none of the important characteristics that prove suitability for the top job were presented by Pence in this debate, for his running mate Trump.

But alas, life in politics, is neither that logical nor that simple. The pundits and the public judged more on the simpler aspects of surface deportments, rather than the overarching accumulation of factual scoring points by Kaine, that were never answered by Pence. It was more about style than substance.

The substance of course favored Tim Kaine. Hillary Clinton has made few mistakes, has far more laudable, relevant experience, and has far fewer and leaner skeletons in her historical closet than Donald Trump. Her general unpopularity, or the visceral hatred of the far right, stems from some of what she has done, some of what her husband did when he was President, and a lot of just Donald Trump’s ability to taint his opponent falsely, like blaming her for all economic difficulties, for the disaster that is currently Iraq, and the Iran nuclear agreement, all of which she had little to do with.

Donald Trump on the other hand is a daily insult generating, gaffes producing machine, with a highly checkered business past, and robust skeletons in the closet, and Pence was hard pressed to be able to defend him at all.

Their going forward policies are riddled with indefensible weaknesses and unrealistic, unsubstantiated assumptions. And desire for change from the status-quo, by itself, is not a good enough reason to hand over the leadership of the country to a highly inexperienced, demonstrably untruthful, insulting, highly unstable and bombastic megalomaniac.

And that, in the final analysis, should be the criteria upon which the debate should be judged, the substance, the suitability of the candidates for President, more than just the comportment of the potential Vice President’s contestants in the debate, who participated for the purpose of proving the viability, and desirability of their respective Presidential candidates, not their personal style in debating. After all, both Tim Kaine and Mike Pence, in their work experiences and past records are judged to be more than suitable and competent as potential Vice Presidents. It’s only the suitability of their respective presidential candidates that was up for debate.

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