The national punditry quickly labelled Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) the winner over Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va) in last night’s first and only debate between the major party candidates for vice president. Having watched the debate and liveblogged it here, I was taken aback, since I though Pence was evasive and carried the weight of Donald Trump’s insane bigotry and misogyny around his neck like an albatross the entire debate.
It appears that the talking heads and opinion writers thought Pence did a good job by not “taking the bait” when Senator Kaine repeatedly demanded that Pence defend Trump’s statements about women’s appearance; the Mexican heritage of an Indiana-born federal judge in a case against Trump making the judge “unqualified” to hear the case; about deporting millions of undocumented immigrants; and calling into doubt Barack Obama’s birthplace (it was Hawaii).
Instead, what Pence did was to just avoid the issues presented to him in direct questions and start talking about what Pence wanted to talk about, namely, Clinton’s emails and the Clinton Foundation.
I guess my years at a trial lawyer makes me prejudiced against people who don’t answer the damned question. Pence’s evasions and deflections demonstrated that there just isn’t any defending Donald Trump and his myriad offensive actions and statements.
When Pence did bother to respond, he denied Trump said the things that Trump, in fact, said. The Clinton campaign already has a video ad out juxtaposing Pence’s denials with the video and audio footage of Trump saying the things that Pence denied he said
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 5, 2016
In other words, Pence toted some of Trump’s water, but through smooth deflection born of his years as a radio talk show host, Pence was able to avoid carrying too much. He visibly stumbled only once, when he referred to Kaine’s questions about Trump’s statements that Mexican immigrants were rapists and criminals as “whipping out that Mexican thing.” The hashtag #ThatMexicanthing is already trending on Twitter. In the Trump/Pence worldview, bigoted statements are just a “thing.”
I wish my crappy witnesses could dodge questions like that without a judge ordering them to do what witnesses are supposed to do, which is to answer the question. In court witnesses cannot do this:
Q. After you killed your wife, you fled from the scene, just as the video shows, correct?
A. Now you’re talking about that killing thing again, and honestly, it’s offensive when my wife did lots of bad things too, like kiting checks, shoplifting, and failing to have a hot meal on the table when I got home from work every day. I mean, you want to talk about a bad temperament, and that was my wife, and that video doesn’t mean anything.
A witness who testified like that would be admonished by the judge and if he continued would likely spend a few nights in jail for contempt of court. It’s too bad our electoral processes are not as careful at getting at the truth as is our judicial system. While the American judicial system is the best in the world, it would be nice if we held our politicians to as high a standard as witnesses in a garden variety who-ran-the-red-light case.
Pence won the image contest by dodging questions. But he did not win a debate. To say he did is to elevate style over substance — and that is what the punditry is doing by praising Pence for not “taking the bait” by making an attempt to defend Trump’s indefensible statements.
I think the debate watchers are smarter than the pundits suppose.