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Updated 8:30 PM |

What Went Down At The Vice Presidential Debate

Filed under 2016 Election


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Micah Cohen 11:01 PM That’s A Wrap

That’s it from us tonight, people. That was the only VP debate we’ll get this campaign, so if you really want to savor it, start at the bottom of this live blog and scroll up. You can also listen to our wrap-up podcast for more.

What will the main storyline be Wednesday about the VP debate? Well, I asked our live blog staff to fill-in the blank: The main story line about this debate tomorrow will be ____________.

Here are our predictions:

Nate: The conventional wisdom rapidly seems to be congealing around something like the following — which I pretty much agree with: 1. Pence “won” on style/points, whereas Kaine was annoying and interrupt-y at some moments and sounded canned at others, but 2. Pence was unable/unwilling to defend Trump and had a lot of incongruities and fact-checking problems, and that’ll make for a big debate about the debate tomorrow.

Clare: Pence playing “traditional Republican” and totally breaking with Trump on Russia.

Carl: Pence either denying Trump said things he did say, or brushing them aside as the words of a politician who isn’t “polished.”

Harry: Pence turns in a better performance than Trump.

Farai: That Kaine seems genuinely excited to be Clinton’s VP, though sometimes with over-exuberance and smugness; and Pence seems willing to patiently deal with an endless barrage of questions about whether he actually supports the positions of his nominee.

Ben: Whatever Trump tweets later tonight. Or says tomorrow. Or whatever David A. Fahrenthold reports in The Washington Post tomorrow. Point being, I’d be surprised if anything from tonight lasts much beyond one news cycle. To the extent people DO talk about the debate, I suspect there will be two storylines: Kaine’s interruptions, and Pence’s reluctance to defend Trump’s more controversial statements.

Anna: Democrats will talk about Pence saying “whipping out that Mexican thing again”; Republicans will talk about Kaine’s interruptions. And then we won’t hear much about it after that, until Pence runs for office again.

10:57 PM
Carl Bialik 10:56 PM Please, Ignore Unscientific Online Debate Polls

So let’s try to get in front of this ridiculous narrative this time: Opt-in, vote-as-many-times-as-you-want, unscientific online polls — aka “clickers”; my colleagues on the FiveThirtyEight Elections podcast are looking for a better name — are meaningless.

After last Monday’s debate, Trump tweeted that it was “such a great honor” to have won 12 of these “polls.” And Trump fans looking to stuff the ballot for Pence tonight might have taken that tweet as a cue to head to the same sites. Pence was the winner according to 76 percent of clickers on Fox 5 San Diego a few minutes after the debate, 73 percent at and 97 percent (of just 65 clickers) at PolitOpinion.

Expect to hear far more about these results than they merit in the hours and days to come. More scientific polls about who won will also emerge, though as my colleague Harry Enten wrote earlier tonight, those results aren’t likely to have much effect on the polls that really matter: whom people plan to vote for on Election Day.

Harry Enten 10:45 PM

One final thought from me: The winner in the instapolls is not always part of the ticket who gains in the polls. That applies doubly so in vice-presidential debates.

Seth Masket 10:40 PM

There are two main takeaways. One is that Kaine came off overly aggressive and seemed too eager to get in his memorized talking points. The other is that Pence happily and calmly defended a version of his running mate that doesn’t exist. In Pence’s telling, Trump would be tough on Putin, would never support prosecuting women for having abortions, uses his family charity solely for charitable purposes, etc. And when called on these discrepancies, Pence simply said that Trump isn’t a polished candidate so sometimes says things he doesn’t mean.

Harry Enten 10:39 PM

One of the things to watch over the next few hours is moderator complaints. Last debate, we heard a lot of complaints from Republicans about Lester Holt. That, of course, forecasted a poorly reviewed debate performance for Trump.

Dhrumil Mehta, Christianna Silva 10:38 PM Counting Attacks

Both of the vice presidential candidates aimed more of their attacks in the debate at the top of the ticket rather than at each other.

Kaine ended his opening statement in the debate with a dig at Trump and frequently quoted Trump’s previous remarks. By our count, Kaine attacked Trump 32 times but only attacked Pence directly nine times. He attacked the pair of them together only twice.

Pence’s strategy, however, involved frequently attacking both Kaine and Clinton as a ticket. By our count Pence attacked Clinton and Kaine together 10 times. Pence took aim at Kaine 5 times, but attacked Clinton 23 times through the debate.

David Wasserman 10:37 PM The Debate Veers Towards The Culture Wars

It’s taken Kaine a long time to venture into favorable terrain on social issues, but he finally found an opportunity. Part of Trump’s unique appeal with traditionally Democratic-leaning working class whites, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest, has been railing against immigration and trade deals and has largely ditched the topics of abortion and same-sex marriage.

But Kaine has the unique opportunity to tie Pence, a traditional social conservative, to GOP social policies that have fallen out of favor. Clinton and Kaine could hold on to some undecided voters by reminding them what a conservative Supreme Court could mean for Roe v. Wade and LGBTQ rights. I was surprised we hadn’t yet heard more from Kaine in that regard.

Farai Chideya 10:35 PM

Pence says that he “stands with the right to life” and that he’s proud to do so with Trump. Although Trump has made conflicting statements on abortion rights, he is also seen by some socially conservative voters as a last line of defense against a liberal Supreme Court, which may explain voting trends among evangelical Christians, who have come to overwhelmingly embrace Trump.

Carl Bialik 10:35 PM

Kaine said the question of how to unite the country after the election if his ticket wins might be the $64,000 question. That’s a reference to a TV show that last aired in 1958 — perhaps not the best reference to connect with young voters.

Clare Malone 10:34 PM

This part of the debate, spurred by the question about how the candidates’ personal faiths can clash with their roles in public life, is one of the more thoughtful exchanges we’ve seen on either debate stage so far. It led into discussions of the death penalty, abortion, etc., but I think tonally it was striking to see the two men who have been cross-talking over each other quite a bit, let each other get out their more nuanced thoughts on these topics.

Twitter 10:33 PM

Harry Enten 10:32 PM

Opinions on abortion greatly differ depending on how the question is phrased. Kaine makes a smart move when he talks about “Roe v. Wade.” Far more Americans support that decision than think abortion should be legal in all circumstances or past the first trimester of pregnancy.

Micah Cohen 10:29 PM

These questions about religion cut right to the core of modern American politics. Attending a religious service, along with education, is one of the strongest predictors of whether you support Trump or Clinton.

Carl Bialik 10:27 PM

Pence said that the Clinton Foundation spends “less than 10 cents on the dollar” of its money on charitable causes. That’s an even more extreme claim than RNC chairman Reince Priebus’s that 80 percent of the foundation’s money goes to overhead. And Politifact ruled it false in August, saying it confused grant making with all program spending. An accounting professor told Politifact that the foundation spent about 87 percent of its money on programs. That doesn’t mean the money is spent well, necessarily, but that’s a different question.

Jody Avirgan 10:26 PM

OK, gang, after this things wraps up we’re going to record a late-night reaction podcast. What should I ask Nate, Clare, and Harry about tonight’s debate? Post in the comments to the right (yes, we read those) or tweet me. And, of course, subscribe to the elections podcast if you haven’t already so you don’t miss an episode.

David Wasserman 10:25 PM

I’m not in front of a dial-testing audience, but I’d bet Pence’s measured answers are playing pretty well with undecided voters … until he reminds them that Trump is at the top of his ticket. The same could be true when Kaine speaks, but at least Clinton and Kaine sound more in sync on policy.

10:24 PM

Micah, I can’t find any numbers on the Trump charitable stuff, but I can say that 56 percent of Americans would be at least somewhat concerned about “possible conflicts between Clinton’s work as president and the Clinton Foundation.” If I’m Pence, I’d continue going after Clinton’s foundation.

Micah Cohen 10:23 PM

Are people more concerned about the Clinton Foundation or Trump’s charitable stuff?

Farai Chideya 10:22 PM Trump’s Taxes Keep Coming Up

The topic of Trump’s taxes seems like a Pokemon — sometimes with a nudge from Kaine, it can pop up anywhere in this debate. Most recently, Kaine brought it into a discussion of Russia, reiterating that Trump has business ties in Russia. Earlier, he said Trump’s releasing his taxes would offer more information on his business dealings. Essentially the taxes have become their own battlefield over character in this debate, with Pence arguing Trump is a smart businessman and Kaine arguing Trump’s a grifter.

Pence parried with by criticizing the issue of foreign donors to the Clinton foundation. That’s when Kaine brought up that the New York attorney general also filed a cease-and-desist order against the Trump Foundation for not having the proper permissions and documentation to raise money.

I spoke with Fordham University law professor Linda Sugin, who wrote a New York Times op-ed detailing issues with the foundation. She said, “There seems to be a pattern for a deep disregard of basic rules for nonprofit organizations. None of these were hard to follow,” adding, “The most important thing here is that the way Trump has treated his charity is troubling because it shows such disregard for law. We need the president to have a healthy respect for the law.”

Carl Bialik 10:20 PM

Struggling to keep up with the talk of the Clinton Foundation, Putin and other controversies? Here’s Clare Malone’s politics briefing book ahead of last week’s debate. Our staff also compiled a briefing book for top policy issues in the debates.

Nate Silver 10:17 PM

Clinton’s ahead by about 4 points right now, or maybe 5, Micah. But I’m not sure I’d use that as a baseline to judge the impact of the VP debate. My prior is that this has been a pretty bad debate, and VP debates don’t move the polls much even when they’re pretty good debates. So any further movement in the polls is probably caused by things *other* than tonight’s debate.

Micah Cohen 10:16 PM

Nate, so we have a good baseline to judge how monumentally impactful this debate is, where does the Clinton-Trump race stand right now?

Seth Masket 10:16 PM

Pence is taking a more traditional Republican line on Russia, heavily criticizing Putin for the Ukraine invasion and calling Putin’s government corrupt. He seems surprisingly untethered by Trump’s own statements. One of a vice presidential candidate’s most difficult tasks is modifying his own stances to reflect their running mates’. Pence is simply not doing it.

Twitter 10:15 PM

10:15 PM

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about Trump ties to Russia. You might think that Americans were more concerned about those ties, but just 32 percent of Americans are “concerned a lot” that Trump would be too friendly to Russia. A far larger percentage (49 percent) aren’t concerned. That’s from a Monmouth University poll taken in early August at the height of Clinton’s convention bounce. Therefore, I’m not sure this is actually going to be Kaine’s strongest moment.

10:14 PM

Are Pence and Trump really on the same ticket? It’s striking how much of Pence’s material tonight has never been discussed by Trump. Pence criticized Russia’s takeover of Crimea just now, as almost all mainstream U.S. politicians have done. But it was only a few months ago that Trump said exactly the opposite on ABC News: “You know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

David Wasserman 10:13 PM Pence and the Muslim Ban

Pence has faced a lot of hypocrisy charges for agreeing to join Trump’s ticket after calling his proposed ban on Muslim immigration “offensive and unconstitutional” in a December 2015 tweet. But just as Trump hasn’t explicitly walked back a religious-based ban, Pence hasn’t explicitly endorsed one either. This is a distinction that some members of the press haven’t made clear.

In July, Politico wrote that Pence “expressed strong support for the real estate mogul’s plan to bar Muslim migration to the U.S,” but in the next paragraph the article seemed to contradict itself by explaining Pence tried to reframe it as a ban on immigration “from countries where terrorist influence and impact represents a threat to the United States.”

It’s another example of Pence trying to draw Trump away from the fringes and closer to the Republican mainstream. Whether Pence’s input would matter much to Trump if they win is another question.


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