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Kaine-Pence debate: nothing new, too much interrupting

REUTERS/Andrew Gombert
Sen. Tim Kaine and Gov. Mike Pence speaking during Tuesday night's debate.

To me, the veep debate was a zero. Didn’t learn anything. Doubt it changed many minds. The format and relative passivity of moderator Elaine Quijano of CBS turned it into a train wreck with the candidates talking over each too much. Maybe I’m turning into a neat freak in my old age (my wife will testify against that idea) but I don’t see why time limits can’t be imposed and enforced, by turning off the violator’s microphone if necessary.

Democratic veep nominee Tim Kaine was by far the guiltier one on the interrupting score. On the other hand, he had a clear strategy, and he implemented it. He came in with a long list of bad things Donald Trump has said or done and kept reciting the list and daring Republican nominee Mike Pence to defend them. Pence didn’t so much defend them as deny them, stating that Trump’s position was not what Kaine said it was and/or that Trump hadn’t really said the things Kaine said he said.

The fact checkers will help us with this in the days ahead. I’m pretty sure Trump did or said most of the things Kaine alleged, although in many instances Trump has also said the opposite. Trump is not only a model of inconsistency and of the ill-considered tweet, but he does not hesitate, when he reverses himself, to deny that his previous position or statement ever existed. Pence followed that practice but in a much more amiable manner.

Speaking of tweets, Trump live-tweeted the debate last night. The tweets were judicious, presidential, fair-minded and highly illuminating. Or maybe not. You can read them all here.

Taunting Trump in absentia

The second part of Kaine’s strategy was to taunt Trump, in absentia, over the unreleased tax returns. A great many of the matters in dispute, if they had anything to do Trump’s business practices, could be resolved, Kaine said over and over, if Trump would do what all presidential nominees over recent decades have done and release his tax returns so Trump’s claims could be proven or disproven. One of his pretty good zingers was to point out that Trump required Pence to turn over his tax returns so they could be vetted before he was offered a place on the ticket, but Trump won’t turn over his tax returns so the American people can vet him properly before turning over the keys to the Oval Office. Fair point.

Kaine also alleged that the Trump campaign is based on insulting everyone and everything. Pence pulled the old I’m-rubber-and-you’re-glue defense, but he brought up only one major Clintonian insult, the recent blunder when Clinton described half of Trump’s supporters as being in a “basket of deplorables” and “irredeemable.” Fair point, although it’s just one giant insult to compare with hundreds by Trump, but Pence suggested that it was worse than all of Trump’s insults because it applied to such a large group. Let’s not try to do the math on that. Kaine’s rebuttal was that Clinton had immediately regretted the insult and apologized for it, and he challenged Pence to cite any Trump insult for which he has apologized. Pence didn’t go there. If you didn’t watch the debate, I trust this is making you glad you didn’t.

This seems like a good time to bring up an audacious and perhaps unrealistic proposition for debate reform, which I personally would welcome. There’s an outfit called “Intelligence Squared,” also known as IQ2, that runs very smart, substantive debates, which follow a traditional debate format practiced at Oxford University. You may have caught some of these on public radio.

They usually have debate teams, but it would work fine with just two candidates. Or the presidential candidate and running mate could form a team. That would be cool.

One debate = one issue

There is one stated resolution under debate. It would have to be something important on which the candidates disagreed. For the sake of illustration in the video that IQ2 put out to explain how it works, let’s say the proposition was: “The United States intervenes abroad too often.” Candidate A gets an opening statement making the case for “yes” on the resolution. Then Candidate B makes an opening statement for “no.”

Then the there’s a second round, in which each side responds to and tries to show the weak spots in the other’s opening statement. Then each side gets a closing statement. There are strict time limits for each turn. Neither side can interrupt. If you tried to picture this as a replacement for the current version of presidential debates, and you assumed there would be three debates, as is the current norm, (or maybe even four, if it included the running mates) you would need a method for determining what the three or four “resolutions” would be. Here’s a thought: Let each ticket choose the topic for one debate, then the commission would choose the topics for the rest.

When they do these Oxford-style debates, there is a live audience. They ask for a vote of the studio audience before the debate, then a second vote after the debate, and whichever side has gained more converts to its position is ruled the winner. If something like this were to be tried in presidential campaigns, there’d be no need to take a vote of the studio audience. The voting could still be reserved for all of us on Election Day.

A few months ago, via the online petition site change.org, IQ2 put a petition online, seeking signatures to urge the commission that runs presidential debates to adopt something like this format. As of late last night, it had attracted 63,956 signatures. Here’s the page that has the petition and also a short video at the top illustrating how it works.

Not to be too pessimistic, but it won’t happen this year for presidential debates. Maybe next time. I don’t see how it could fail to be an improvement.

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/05/2016 - 10:16 am.

    Ya Know….

    Eric, you really didn’t need to follow up that headline with an actual article… the headline really says it all. 🙂

    I must say I thought it was pretty bad form to ignore the moderator so blatantly, and it actually struck me as a rather sexist. Kaine should have been much more sensitive to that given the fact that Clinton’s had mixed results on the feminist front. He had a chance to score some points by extending some basic courtesy to the moderator and blew right past it.

    • Submitted by C.S. Senne on 10/05/2016 - 11:53 am.

      Sexism?

      Nope. Both candidates interrupted multiple times. The format was flawed and the moderator was passive. It had nothing at all to do with “sexism.”

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/05/2016 - 10:53 am.

    My 2¢

    I’m inclined to agree with Paul Udstrand – about Eric’s column, and also about the somewhat sexist tromping on the moderator. I couldn’t stand to watch the whole thing – too many interruptions of one speaker by the other, too much talking past each other (and the moderator) – but I did catch Kaine’s zinger about Pence’s tax return vs. The Donald’s. A point well-taken. So was Pence’s point about Clinton’s use of the “basket of deplorables” phrase, though I think she is both accurate and correct in its use. Politically dumb, but accurate, nonetheless. All in all, I thought the VP debate – though “debate” is hardly what it was – unlikely to change more than half a dozen minds across the country. Eric’s proposal for a replacement strikes me as a good one, though I won’t be holding my breath, waiting for the Presidential Debate Commission to adopt it. In the meantime, I’d very much like to see a “kill” switch added for the moderator to simply cut off the microphone of an offending speaker. I think it might need to happen only twice before the message would sink in, and the audience, both live and TV, would have an opportunity to hear what each of the candidates was saying in its entirety.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Eckhardt on 10/05/2016 - 11:03 am.

    Nothing new?

    Was I the only one who heard Pence say we should make military strikes against the Syrian military? And what do we do when Russia fires back?

  4. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 10/05/2016 - 11:14 am.

    I missed the part

    where we concluded that Ms Clinton’s reference to Trump’s deplorables was a “giant insult.” Have we all agreed, then, that white supremacist esteemers of Adolf Hitler aren’t deplorable?

  5. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/05/2016 - 11:25 am.

    What debate?

    As a judge in high school public forum debate tournaments around the Twin Cities, I’d have had trouble declaring either Kaine or Spence a winner last night. Each one largely ignored the questions asked and generally behaved badly throughout.

    Oxford-style debate will never be agreed to by the candidates, so we may as well be honest and call those conducting the debates referees rather than moderators, and give them tools to enforce the rules. Mute buttons would be a good start. Clocks, displayed on-screen, would be helpful as well. If a candidate exceeds his or her time limit, give them a warning light. If they haven’t concluded within 15 additional seconds, turn off their mikes. Turn off any candidates mike when it’s not his or her turn to speak.

    Of course, they wouldn’t agree to this either.

  6. Submitted by Pat Berg on 10/05/2016 - 11:32 am.

    Interrupting

    Kaine started it with the interruptions, and it felt like it was very unnatural to him. As if he had been coached to do this – early and often.

    And I’d like to give that coach a slap upside the head. Seriously. The first time Kaine did it, I just groaned. Trump went there, and it reflected very badly on him. Who in their right mind thought it would be a good idea for Kaine to do the same thing?

    And it’s a shame, because I suspect Kaine would have come off in a much better light and still have found a way to get his “attacks” in if his debate coaching team had just decided to let Kaine be Kaine.

    • Submitted by C.S. Senne on 10/05/2016 - 12:40 pm.

      “Debate”

      First of all this was not a “debate.” It was a chance for the VP candidates to reinforce the top of the ticket. Kaine did exactly what he intended to do: showcase all of the deplorable drivel that Trump has been spewing out for a year and a half. Kaine hit point after point and poor Pence couldn’t defend Trump. Today there are videos mocking the lies that Pence attempted to pass as truth. Pence got style points for sitting still. And he got a head start at his own 2020 campaign for his Theocratic regime. No doubt, Trump lost the “debate.”

    • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 10/06/2016 - 09:16 am.

      It’s Because Kaine has Nothing New

      His focus to attack and interrupt was mainly because Kaine has nothing to show for. He’s one of the ultimate insiders and included as the former DNC Chair – just ask Bernie if the DNC are fair people.
      Hilary is going to give us more of the same Obama stuff of a stagnated economy, weakened country, failing programs, and continuation of the huge divide of people while skyrocketing up the country’s credit card. If you don’t have a good record, then you focus on the opponent. Kaine’s behavior was boorish, but you can argue that he had to be so the focus would not be on his ticket.

  7. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/05/2016 - 11:47 am.

    The new thing ?The

    The new thing ?

    The straight-up serial lying by the “serious” Republican on the ticket in defense of Trump.

    Gosh, it brings to mind the Nixon/Agnew ticket.

    Despite all evidence to the contrary–one will lie and the other will swear to it.

    What a team.

  8. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 10/05/2016 - 02:30 pm.

    Kaine was lame…..

    Did Mr. Kaine attend the Al Gore school of debate preparation?

    In comparison to the Trump Presidential debate – Kaine made Trump look mature and well mannered.

    For the next moderator – bring in Matt Lauer!

    • Submitted by C.S. Senne on 10/05/2016 - 02:48 pm.

      Mature?

      I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen the words “Trump” and “mature and well mannered.” in the same sentence.

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