33 Days: Demeanor vs. Record or, Gosh I Miss Joe Biden.
|Amy Widdowson||Oct 5, 2016|
I imagine it won’t surprise most of you to know that I was a theater minor in college. Or that I spent most of my formative years performing on stage. Which is to say, I see the world through a certain lens, especially when it comes to public perception.
So I’m going to throw this out there: as the applause started and the houselights came on at Longwood University, I turned to my husband and proclaimed loudly that Pence had won that debate. To that, aghast at my anti-Democrat treachery, he loudly disagreed, said I was wrong and skulked off to bed with the dogs, who gave zero fucks either way. So I sat down, wrote half of this Missive, and am now looking at my thoughts from last night with fresh eyes and semi-hindsight.
Look, It was Tim Kaine’s to lose after Hillary’s charmingly steely first turn against Trump. And he had his own public perception to combat, because as of 24 hours ago, I sure couldn’t imagine America’s Nice Dad as an attack dog surrogate, beyond that DNC Trump impression.
Fun fact about me: as a part of my day job, I love attending hearings for regulatory issues - don’t click away, hear me out - and that’s because of the mental and emotional backflips that witnesses go through. Because witnesses are speaking for the record, the transcribed testimony that will be read and re-read when a decision is being deliberated. Good witnesses are rhetorically twisting and turning to ensure a good record, all the while shooting eye daggers at the questioner. That tension between what’s said and what is observed is awesome.
And that’s what I saw last night - Kaine going for the record (and the clips) while Pence played to the audience. Look, I looooove me a client who can learn and stick to talking points when needed. But as we saw with Marco Rubio, relying too heavily on those TPs can make you seem wooden and formulaic. And Pence was there to swat Kaine down the moment he went in on that “dictator versus leader” spiel for the second time. It was awkward AF - as Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo said on twitter, Kaine memorized the crap out of that Trump opposition research and tried to cram as much into the debate as he possibly could.
CBS called it the “kitchen sink” debate because one side ran hot and the other ran cold. And as many on the inter webs observed, Pence was in his own little world, impenetrable to Kaine’s interruptions or pesky things like recent history or what his running mate has said on camera. His cadence was measured, he lowered his voice whenever Kaine got into his upper register, countering Kaine’s frantic energy with his own ice cold demeanor. When Kaine challenged Pence on Trump’s public statements, Pence shook his head, and gaslit the fuck out of the viewing audience, denying statement after statement, issue after issue.
So what does it say about me, and about this election, that I called a debate for the Republican VP nominee who (rightfully, in my mind) threw the top of his ticket under the bus and straight up lied again and again and again through calm and well-set teeth? What does that say about the state of the 2016 Republican ticket that the VP candidate needs to dodge and weave ever so gracefully over his running mate’s record, denying things he said on camera, almost as if that Presidential candidate doesn’t exist in the way we’ve seen him over the last year? And I know I sound like I didn’t listen to what was actually said, and that may be accurate because I was too busy cringing and hiding under pillows, but it seems as if our own electorate doesn’t feel like listening either.
Kaine won the record, but Pence won the room / screen. But some are already saying that Trump lost the most.