If you need a quick summary of the vice presidential debate between Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, this from Marc Duvoisin at the Los Angeles Times is really all you need:
Kaine is trying to win the argument, Pence is trying to win the audience.— Marc Duvoisin (@MarcDuvoisin) October 5, 2016
Matt Yglesias captured this well, writing for Vox:
When Kaine demanded that Pence defend Trump’s secrecy on his taxes, Pence ducked and talked about how low taxes are good for economic growth. When Kaine offered an extended list of Trump insults that he said he couldn’t believe Pence would defend, Pence didn’t defend them — he pivoted to complaining about Clinton and the “basket of deplorables.” Pence was tight, disciplined, and focused on his talking points. He never took the bait, never let himself get dragged into unfavorable terrain, and simply ignored subjects he didn’t want to discuss.
So Kaine was trying to win the argument — that Donald Trump and Pence are bad for the country. But Pence was just trying to win the audience — by avoiding defending the indefensible and instead focusing on the Trump campaign’s more positive aspects.
This largely shows the different objectives the candidates had tonight. Pence’s big goal was to show Republicans who are deeply skeptical of Trump that there is a calm human on the Republican ticket focused on typical GOP policies instead of the kind of reality TV show grandstanding that Trump has brought to the campaign trail. Kaine, meanwhile, wanted to continue pushing the kind of messages that have made Trump the least-liked presidential candidate in modern history.
The result is Pence looked much better than Kaine stylistically, even if Pence was wrong on police and implicit bias, Iran, and whether Trump really does insult a lot of people.