The outcome tonight was what you might have expected: Mike Pence soundly defeated Tim Kaine on every metric that matters, if you were comparing the two men. Pence was more serious, more mature, more knowledgeable, more his own man, more presidential. Kaine came off as small, petty, bent on interruptions, satisfied with the status quo. If Pence’s goal was to make Kaine defend business as usual – defend the corruptions of Hillary Clinton (with the mantra of “there was a full investigation”) and the madness of the Iran deal – he succeeded with flying colors. Kaine fell back again and again on canned lines and corny jokes and ridiculous stretches on Trump’s taxes (hint: tax returns don’t say where your business makes money). He obviously has no informed opinions of his own on foreign affairs. He smiled at inappropriate times, while being utterly without warmth.
And yet, in electoral terms, Kaine probably won. He won not because he was right but because Donald Trump had willingly presented the Democrats with so very many easy targets personal to Trump and unrelated to the rest of the GOP that Pence wisely didn’t even try to defend besides shaking his head. Pence had an impossible task defending Trump, and prudently remained at arms’ length from doing so.
The debate opened with a quote from Lloyd Bentsen, who won the 1988 VP debate going away, yet saw his ticket sunk badly. Perhaps that was an omen.