Not about everything. Some things I got spot on. But, boy howdy, was I ever wrong about saying that the one thing Mike Pence wouldn't do was lie like a sociopathic Donald Trump. Yipes.
Continually through the debate, when Tim Kaine repeatedly brought up things that Donald Trump actually said which are on tape -- and things that Mike Pence actually said which are on tape -- the Indiana governor time and time and time again would shake his head "no" and repeatedly deny it had ever been said. Yipes.
There's a big problem to this which I think affects the impact of this debate, and I'll get to that in a moment.
I'll also note beforehand that I tried to watch the debate not from my point-of-view, or that of Democratic or Republican supporters, but from the perspective of an undecided voter. I think each debater probably satisfied their base, and there's value to that...but there's more value in attracting new voters. And I'll note too that contrary to so much of the pre-debate snarking, this was most-definitely not bland and boring, but fairly contentious.
First things first. I thought the debate was reasonably close, and both participants had their strong moments and weak ones. Pence came across as somewhat steady, while Kaine probably jumped in and interrupted too much, talking over his opponent and being a bit hyper. That said, as the debate went on, Pence continually interrupted, as well, but the impression is probably that Kaine was the far-greater offender. On the other hand, I thought that with the split-screen and Mike Pence endlessly shaking his head, he came across as petulant and even defensive. Especially since his repeated denials of things that many, if not most viewers viewers knew to be true made him look untrustworthy.
Pence was at his best making methodical, pointed criticisms of Hillary Clinton, probably on some foreign affairs issues. However Kaine had solid responses (and always did respond, something not the case with Pence when Trump was criticized), but I don't he always made them in a substantive way, even if his facts were there.
Kaine did best, I think, in the last half hour, and most notably throughout in his repeated questions to Pence about Donald Trump and nukes, about Trump ties to Russia, about Trump's taxes, and in his discussion of abortion. (Pence was eloquent, as well, on the latter subject, but I think his was an answer that would only appeal to the far right evangelicals who the campaign already has, for the most part.) And Kaine was most effective when bringing up how Pence tended to avoid defending Donald Trump on the most-pointed charges Kaine kept making about Trump at his most outrageous.
(Side note: I also think that Mike Pence got off very easily personally, without ever getting questioned either by the moderator or by Tim Kaine about his deeply divisive record in Indiana -- his own Republican Party there was reportedly concerned they would lose the state, and glad he wasn't running for re-election. So, he never had to address things like the disastrous Religious Freedom Law, as well as his statements against gay couples and adoption, and supporting an Indiana "feticide" law that got a woman a 30-year jail sentence, which was later overturned.)
Stepping outside my looking at the debate from an undecided P.OV., my own personal favorite moment? Mike Pence continually bemoaning the Clinton campaign for being so negative by quoting Donald Trump.
Second favorite -- Tim Kaine noting that Mike Pence was asking voters to support Donald Trump who Pence himself would so often not defend.
The initial CNN poll showed Pence winning the debate 48-42%, which is a win but insignificant for changing minds. And besides, perhaps more importantly (and supporting my comments here for how I watched the debate) CNN's small focus group overwhelmingly thought Kaine won. Why is this important, if the focus group was so small? Because they were all undecided voters. To be fair, the focus group was from Virginia, Kaine's home state -- though they were all undecided going on. There are more polls to come, so we'll have to wait and see those results. But I suspect they'll all be close and likely leaning for Pence. And while some analysts afterwards said that the job Pence did was important for the Trump campaign because it stopped the bleeding, I don't especially agree, at least not fully. The issue is Donald Trump, that's who's bleeding. What Mike Pence effectively did was not confirm everything bad about Trump and therefore end the election right there, and that's very beneficial. But...I think there were a few things Pence did that made things worse, and made the results of the polls, whatever they all end up being, whoever they say "won," almost meaningless.
Here's what I mean --
The starting point that hovers over everything is that Vice Presidential debates don't tend to move the needle much at all, unless there's some sort of debacle. Far fewer people watch a VP debate than presidential, and people don't decide their vote on the VP nominee. The only Vice Presidential nominee I'm aware of who affected votes was probably Sarah Palin (and negatively). But other than that, it's generally a balancing act all around.
But two parts of the debate leaped out to me as problematic for the Trump campaign, yet neither will show up in poll results.
The first is that very often, the policies that Mike Pence was explaining were often not the policies of Donald Trump. For instance his tough-sounding criticism of Russia was at vast odds with what Trump has said. So, it's one thing to "win" a debate by making your arguments seem somewhat reasonable (indeed positions that aren't actually those of your campaign), it's another thing to now force the head of your ticket to explain why his own views are so at complete odds with what his running mate said. Especially if those disparities are brought up in the coming presidential debates.
And most importantly are all those denials Mike Pence made about things that he and Donald Trump actually said. What this means is that rather than deal with them right there at the debate and getting everything out of the way, now for the rest of the week TV news shows will be doing fact-checking and showing videos of all these awful things that Donald Trump and Mike Pence actually did say (like both calling Vladimir Putin a "great leader," which Pence repeatedly denied). This not only keeps all those issues alive, but makes Pence out to be a liar -- something that Democrats have been showing to be core to Trump, and now has become a running theme of the entire Trump campaign. But it's worse than even this, and addresses another reason why poll results for this debate are meaningless. And that's because, as noted, far fewer people watched this debate than the presidential one (early estimates are about half of the 85 million). So, maybe 40 million people who didn't see Mike Pence perhaps have a squeak-through "win" (or maybe loss) -- and wouldn't have seen him address these outrageous Trump quotes right there and thus end them as a continuing issue -- will now see the follow-up news stories about all the lying denials and video of the actual, offending statements. So, these 40 million people who didn't watch the debate and therefore wouldn't be party of any poll results will nonetheless likely have their views of the debate shaped after-the-fact by these problems for the Trump campaign.
And none of this includes Mike Pence's egregiously ill-conceived line about "whipping out That Mexican Thing again." (If you missed the debate, this refers to Tim Kaine continually bringing up Trump's smear of illegal Mexican immigrants.) You just have to figure that such a deeply dismissive "whipping out That Mexican Thing again" is really not going to play terribly well in the Mexican-American community. To put it politely. And that sucking sound you hear is more Hispanic votes going down the drain.
So, did Mike Pence win the debate? Yeah, maybe. Slipping through perhaps by a few points. Though some polls may show that to be different. And that doesn't even take into consideration that the reactions of undecided voters might be quite different and worse for Pence. But even so, even if Pence did win by a bit, I think it will be a Pyrrhic Victory, and the aftermath residuals will cause more harm than good.
Much of the post-debate analysis suggested that Mike Pence did himself more good personally than for Donald Trump, positioning himself as a leading conservative candidate for 2020. And perhaps so, though if Donald Trump does end up going down to a huge defeat (not certain at all, but hard to dismiss as quite possible) and also drags down the Republican Party under-tickets, then being so closely tied to Donald Trump will hardly be a swell calling card overall in four years.
But in the end, like with most Vice Presidential debates, this should likely have little affect on the race. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are what matters, especially having such strong personalities that overwhelm their running mates. But if there is any affect on the race, I think it's that Mike Pence, while coming across as reasonable and not letting the campaign sink right then and there, and perhaps even winning by a hair, made the road more uphill for Donald Trump.