From Presidents to Proxies: Examining the VP Stoush

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
The Conversation /
October 05, 2016 /

Click here to view original /

For Trump, the challenge was picking someone with actual political experience to compensate for his own malarkey.

Hillary had a different burden.

She didn’t need more experience on the ticket, rather, had to pick someone who could compensate for her deficits. Tim Kaine. A nice-enough white man who could put another spin on her likeability. Lots of people – lots of white men – have struggled with her: Kaine could show that having a penis and liking Hillary is completely achievable.

It’s no accident that both VP candidates lack charm, charisma. That both have been described as boring, as vanilla. It has to be that way. Neither can pull a Palin and upstage their overlord. Neither can be too likeable, too electable. They’re there as an accoutrement, an adjunct, and for this year’s VP wannabes, they’re there to serve as a man-of-God with a son in uniform and to offer up qualities that their candidate lacks. Nothing more, hopefully not too much less.

The VP debate had none of the event television factor of last week’s presidential offering (which I wrote about here). With 40% of Americans being unable to even name either VP candidate, tonight’s duel was never going to be a must-watch. (Unless you’re a political scientist in which case this is the porn we watch when we’re not watching the real stuff).

Such disinterest says a lot about American politics and, notably, about this year’s campaign. About the celebrity factor. About the spectacle. About how a host of not-really-interested-in-politics people have come out of the woodwork because the reality TV-ness of it all offers an “in”.

In an election with two of the oldest candidates to have ever campaigned, odds are that one of these running mates will actually serve in the top job. There’ll be more pneumonia, more sniffing, more inevitable ageing. Americans won’t therefore, just be getting Clinton but Kaine will also be part of the package. Americans (God forbid) won’t just get.. cough… Trump, but also perhaps Pence.

We have to pay attention to the VPs and thus, the debate had to be watched. Albeit with all its oddities.

For the VP stoush candidates sat at a roundable opposite the largely completely hopeless moderator, Elaine Quijano. The table thing might have seemed like a folksy contrast to the first debate, but when networks – I watched the CNN coverage – split the screen, not only did the candidates look awkward seated (a side effect of stiff suits and tight-cropping), but it’s unclear where – or to whom – they were looking. Incredibly strange and sometimes shifty-seeming optics ensued.

Something I liked about last week’s Clinton v. Trump biffo was that questions were asked and, at least for the most, questions were answered. Candidates were given sufficient time to respond/hang-themself, and the format served well to showcase the key difference between Hillary – with all the information and answers at her fingertips – and Trump, with his pouting, petulance and post-nasal drip.

The structure of the VP contest however, was less debate and more a cable news free-for-all. Lots of short questions, two people talking – loudly – over each other and entire sentences completely gobbled in a battle of who can plough on with the most force. Add to this a moderator reluctant to take a firm hand or raise her voice.

So who won?

It pains me, sure, but I’d give the debate to Pence. On optics, on presentation. On debate prep. He was polished, poised, presidential.

Except of course, this wasn’t a presidential debate. And the “vice” bit matters. The VP debate is about stumping for your candidate, not yourself. It’s about loudly and vigorously endorsing your candidate, not yourself.

And suddenly the concept of “winner” looks a tad more fuzzy.

Pence won the debate because he debated like a presidential candidate: i.e., the job he’s actually running for, albeit four years too early.

Kaine conversely, didn’t look presidential, didn’t answer presidentially. Instead, he took every opportunity to champion Clinton. To passionately – if frequently rudely – sing her praises. Kaine was a good guard-dog, a competent footman. And perhaps most importantly, he knew his place.

This was the one and only VP debate. Few of us will complain about that.

© Lauren Rosewarne