Edward Panetta, professor of communication studies at the University of Georgia, has been the director of the Georgia Debate Union for 27 years.
He just sent over this assessment of last night’s vice-presidential debate between Democrat Tim Kaine, the U.S. senator from Virginia, and Republican Mike Pence, governor of Indiana:
PERFORMANCE OF MIKE PENCE:
Mike Pence was a debater who exhibited a calm and measured rhetorical style throughout the debate. For the first hour of the debate, he regularly exhibited an authoritative tone. He came across as a knowledgeable person who could serve as a national leader. Early and late in the debate he targeted the Rust Belt states with four to five references to supporting coal country.
Conservative supporters will be pleased with the performance. He spoke to evangelical voters who are a core constituency for any Republican who wants to win the presidency. He delivered a forceful set of messages on Russia and his pro-life position. The Russian response was reminiscent of Mitt Romney’s 2012 position more than the 2016 Trump response.
While he pressed a traditional Republican agenda, Governor Pence did not engage in a full-throated defense of Donald Trump. Throughout the debate Senator Kaine pressed Governor Pence to defend or explain statements that Donald Trump had made during the campaign and Pence did not rise to the defense of his running mate.
PERFORMANCE OF TIM KAINE:
Senator Kaine’s interruption of Governor Pence eroded his credibility with some in the audience. He seemed over-prepared and both interrupted Pence and spoke quickly in the hopes of presenting all of the arguments he had memorized for the debate.
This stylistic failure will lead many to believe he lost the debate. But when one looks at the volume of evidence and argumentation presented in the debate there is a strong case that Kaine won the debate.
He defended Secretary Clinton each time she was attacked by Governor Pence. Additionally, he peppered the debate with a number of provocative Trump quotations that put Pence on the defensive. Throughout the debate Kaine targeted messages to particular audiences that Clinton will need to win the election. He referred to Trump’s comments on Mexicans and Muslims to mobilize Latino voters.
His answer to the abortion question was one of the most thoughtful answers delivered in any national political debate in recent memory and is probably going to help his ticket with college-educated women. And, most importantly, he reinforced the core Clinton campaign narrative that Trump is temperamentally unsuited to be President by raising the issue of nuclear weapons on several occasions and reminded the audience that Trump should not be trusted with the nuclear codes.
ASSESSING THE OUTCOME:
Mike Pence was more stylistically effective than Tim Kaine in the debate. He was an effective champion of conservative principles. He did a lot in this debate to advance his own place in American public life. If one determines the winner of a vice-presidential debate by identifying which individual had a better self-presentation – then there is a strong case to be made that Pence won the debate.
If, however, one accepts the assumption that the purpose of a vice-presidential debate is to attack the opposition and defend the running mate then Tim Kaine was the clear winner of the debate.
Here’s the exchange on social issues mentioned above: