This was a more normal debate than last week's, which makes it harder to call. Tim Kaine was very much the aggressor, interrupting frequently and demanding that Pence defend the most egregious of Donald Trump's outbursts. Pence was calmer, and kept insisting that Trump had never said the stuff Kaine accused him of saying. This wasn't true, but there's no telling if the audience at home believed him anyway. In the future, perhaps candidates should be allowed to have a series of video clips they're allowed to display during their answers?
On style, then, Pence probably won with his calm demeanor. On substance, it was a KO for Kaine. Trump really did say all the stuff Kaine accused him of, but Pence simply refused to engage with it. Trump did casually say he didn't care much if other countries got nukes. Trump did say that women who get abortions should be punished.1 Trump's tax plan does include huge cuts for millionaires. Trump did promise to release his taxes and then reneged on it. Trump (and Pence) have called Vladimir Putin a better leader than Obama. Trump has trash talked the military. Trump did call NATO obsolete and then suggest he might not bother defending the Baltics if Russia invaded them.
Neither Pence nor Kaine made any terrible gaffes, and neither landed any killing blows. This means that partisanship probably weighs most heavily here, but even with that in mind I'd give the debate to Kaine. The post-debate commentary is going to make it clear that Kaine was mostly accurate about Trump, and that Pence simply wasn't willing or able to defend him. I don't know if that will be devastating for Pence, but it won't make him look good. Overall, I give Kaine a B+ and Pence a B-.
As for Elaine Quijano, I really don't know. She didn't take control of the debate at all, and frequently allowed Pence and Kaine to talk when she should have shut them up—but just as frequently moved on when she should have let them talk. Was this because of the debate rules? Because Pence and Kaine refused to abide by the rules? Or because she's a bad moderator? I don't know.
A full transcript of the debate is here.
1He took it back the next day, but he still said it.
In a presidential campaign featuring superstars Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Tim Kaine and Mike Pence have faded so far into the background they're almost invisible. In fact, they've both avoided controversy so assiduously that the main attacks against Kaine are about his defense of murderers several decades ago, while the biggest complaint about Pence is that he claimed cigarettes weren't killers back in the year 2000. I'm exaggerating here, but only barely.
Actually, what most people seem to be looking forward to is Pence's defense of Donald Trump's various meltdowns. Sadly, he's probably well prepped for this. But you never know. There might be fireworks anyway.
10:35 - And that's a wrap.
10:33 - Pence: We'll unify America by bringing change to Washington DC, standing tall in the world, and supercharging the economy. Um.
10:31 - How will you unify America if you win? Kaine: Republicans respect Clinton. She has a track record of working across the aisle. Kaine says he does too. Not a bad answer.
10:27 - Pence opposes abortion. Kaine supports women making their own choices.
10:26 - Now it's a lovefest. Everybody agrees that faith is great. Everybody agrees that the other guy's faith is great.
10:23 - Now let's talk about faith. You will be unsurprised that both men are deeply, deeply informed by their faith.
10:20 - Quijano: I remind you both that the question is about North Korea.
10:19 - Now Kaine is talking about foundations too. The Clinton Foundation is great! But the Trump Foundation is "octopus like" and breaks the law all the time.
10:16 - What would you do to prevent North Korea from developing a missile that can reach the United States? Pence delivers a bit of mush and then....returns to Trump's taxes and the Clinton Foundation. Huh?
10:11 - Finally Kaine says something not really true: that Trump didn't know Russia annexed Crimea two years ago. Pence goes after it. But he's still stuck on most of Kaine's accusations because they're all on tape.
10:10 - Kaine has generally been pretty aggressive in his accusations against Trump. Pence is constantly rolling his eyes and saying "Oh please" or something similar. But he rarely even tries to explain why Kaine is wrong. He just switches to an attack on Hillary Clinton. I guess he doesn't have much choice since Kaine has mostly been accurate.
10:07 - Now Kaine makes it explicit: He's tried to get an answer on nukes "six times." Pence won't defend Trump's position. Quijano bails out Pence by moving to a new subject.
10:05 - Kaine keeps poking Pence on Trump's casual attitude toward other countries getting nuclear weapons. Pence resolutely refuses to deal with this.
9:58 - A question about Aleppo. And speaking of Aleppo, Gary Johnson says his ignorance of geography is a benefit. Folks who know all those foreign countries and foreign leaders just end up wanting to attack them. Seriously.
9:54 - What is an "intelligence surge"? Kaine: Expanding our intelligence capacity and building better alliances. Okey doke.
9:49 - Is America more or less safe than it was eight years ago? For the record, I'd say it's about equally dangerous.
9:48 - Kaine doing a pretty good job of running down why Trump is dangerous on foreign affairs: Trash talks the military, wants to tear apart alliances, he loves dictators, and he wants everyone to have nukes.
9:44 - Back to immigration. Pence trying to soften Trump's plan. Kaine trying to make sure everyone knows every single detail.
9:41 - Pence now trying to make case that "basket of deplorables" is equivalent to all of Trump's insults. It's not working.
9:40 - Interesting that Pence rather obviously refused to say the word "wall" when talking about Trump's immigration plan.
9:34 - Pence: Enough with all this institutional racism crap. Kaine: We can't be afraid to bring up issues of bias.
9:31 - Both guys agree that cops are great.
9:29 - What is Elaine Quijano doing? She's not keeping either of these guys in line, and she's only allowing a minute or two on each subject. Come on. This isn't a race to see who can talk about the most subjects in 90 minutes.
9:27 - Pence to Kaine: "There they go again." Oh please.
9:26 - What the heck are the rules for this debate? Are interruptions allowed? Are there time limits? Or what?
9:22 - Pence to Kaine: "You can roll out the numbers" but the economy sucks no matter what all your egghead numbers say.
9:21 - Kaine on Trump: "His economic plan is a Trump first plan." Meh.
9:19 - Nobody is making any funny faces yet.
9:16 - So far, our moderator is not doing a good job of keeping things in line. Maybe she's restrained by bad rules?
9:14 - Both candidates are trying to be tough. It's a little comedic. Sort of like five-year-olds trying to look tough next to John Wayne.
9:12 - Why do so many people think Donald Trump is erratic? How much time do we have to answer this question?
9:11 - Why don't people trust Hillary Clinton? Hmmm. Let me think.
9:03 - And we're off. Can I remember to use Eastern time zone time stamps this time? Wait and see!
9:00 - CNN can't seem to make up its mind whether this debate is going to be a snoozefest or the biggest moment ever in debate history.
8:55 - David Axelrod: There will be no painting outside the lines tonight.