Sen. Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, took a page out of Donald Trump’s debate strategy Tuesday night, interrupting his rival Gov. Mike Pence often throughout the first and only vice presidential debate.
“People at home cannot understand either one of you when you speak over each other,” debate moderator Elaine Quijano was forced to say early — and repeat often throughout the 90-minute debate, held at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.
But just as the strategy didn’t work for Trump (he interrupted Hillary Clinton 51 times during the first presidential debate), it didn’t work for Kaine.
Rather, it backfired badly for the Democratic ticket, giving Pence the debate win and allowing him to act like a calm soft-spoken Midwesterner in the face of a “negative” attack dog — although a seemingly nervous-sounding one.
And it gave Republicans fodder for a simple post-debate attack video, creating a supercut of all the times Kaine jumped in on Pence’s time.
The GOP’s count: Kaine interrupted Pence 72 times.
Pence wasn’t trying to act vice presidential
In a typical election year, vice presidential debates usually draw less attention than presidential ones — with the notable exception of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin in 2008 — quite simply because vice presidents are not running for the president.
But the abnormal nature of this year's two frontrunners raised interest in how Clinton and Trump’s running mates would defend them. After all, it is often seen as a primary role of a vice presidential candidate to act as the presidential candidate’s attack dog.
Especially after the week Trump had since the first presidential debate — losing the debate, starting a feud with a former Miss Universe, becoming the subject of several damning reports about his personal finances, and going uncontrollably off script at a recent campaign rally — eyes were on Pence to explain why voters should look past Trump’s transgressions.
In theory, Kaine did his job — albeit a bit too nervously, and in a manner that proved grating on onlookers.
As Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall put it, Kaine debated for Clinton, “defending her in ways that are difficult for her to do herself but far more often by reading out crate loads of opposition research on Trump and simply reminding people of all the stuff he's said.”
Pence, however, won the debate because he debated well for himself, demurely and implicitly denying Trump had ever done the things he’d clearly done. But none of this might matter. As Marshall explains:
People don't vote for vice presidential candidates. Especially in this campaign, with two presidential candidates whose public personas loom so large over the political nation, the veeps barely hold any of the spotlight. This is about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Kaine landed lots of punches on Donald Trump, while Pence left Trump largely undefended. Pence got in very few hits on Clinton, but not many. Whether Pence made a tacit decision to abandon his boss or simply wasn't up to the challenge I don't know. But the net effect was that he let Kaine land punch after punch on Trump, largely undefended. That's really all that matters.
Kaine interrupted. It didn’t go well for him, but he’s not the one at the top of the ticket.