Despite the RNC's posting a claim, more than an hour before the debate began, that Mike Pence had won the debate (and then quickly taking it down), there was no clear cut, big winner. Those who lean right will say that Mike Pence did; and those that lean left will say that Tim Kaine did. Put me in the latter group. Here are some particulars:
1. Tim Kaine was slightly, annoyingly too wound up and began right away interrupting Pence. I understood that he just couldn't sit there and wait while Pence repeatedly misstated facts, made wild, false accusations, and veered way off course. I was having trouble with that in Pence too. But Kaine seems to have put off even the anchors on MSNBC by his behavior.
2. That aside, Kaine gave crisp, concise answers that were fact based and accurate. He was obviously extremely well-prepared. He was challenging -- repeatedly calling on Pence to defend what Trump had said. And, if the debate were judged on points they made and on crispness of arguments, then Kaine won hands down.
3. Pence had the harder job of defending Donald Trump. He didn't even try, really. Mostly he tried to get by making generalized statements praising Trump but avoiding real commentary about anything substantive he has said. And he repeatedly denied that Trump has said what fact-checkers (plus everyone's memory) will easily prove.
4. Differences in policy were often highlighted, especially at the end when the topic turned to abortion. Each man was not just stating talking points, then, but was sharing his deeply held beliefs and his obvious, thoughtful consideration over time of the subject. Both men are personally opposed to it, both have deeply held religious beliefs that oppose it; but Kaine puts his own beliefs aside and doesn't think any one religious belief should be imposed as public policy. Pence, every bit as personally and religiously committed to opposing abortion, thinks that it should be public policy to "protect the vulnerable" and that "includes the unborn."
5. The moderator, Elaine Quijano of CBSN, did not, in my opinion, do a very good job. She was unable to keep them from talking over each other and even talking over her. At times, all three of them were talking at the same time. I also thought she tried to cover too much ground with her questions, with far too little time on each to allow them to get beyond talking points -- except at the end on abortion
6. In the post-debate days, Pence is not going to look as good as some think he does tonight; because much of the news will be about his denials of Trump's saying what he actually said -- and, in one notable case, even denying that he himself had said what he said. MSNBC anchors were extolling their view that Pence is playing the long game, that he established himself tonight as the leading conservative contender for the Republican nomination for president in 2020. Thus, as one said, Ted Cruz was the big loser.
7. In the end, I go with the policy positions and the clear, concise answers that Kaine gave. I though he ran circles around Pence and scored point after point by challenging Pence to defend Trump -- and he couldn't. Except for being overly aggressive and interrupting, I thought Kaine's performance was stellar. I just wish he had had twice as much time to rebut Pence's false claims about Clinton. I'm puzzled to find the MSNBC anchors in disagreement with that opinion.
PS: A quote from Josh Marshall's TPM discussion of the debate:
"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."