|Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN)|
This is perhaps the one that came across the most often, and probably has some credence because it was, at the very least, what Pence was hoping to do. Throughout the night, Pence was running as if this bogeyman Donald Trump, the man who has called Mexicans rapists and women pigs, doesn't actually exist. Unlike Hillary Clinton (or Lester Holt, for that matter), Elaine Quijano didn't challenge him on this, and Tim Kaine clearly hadn't prepped for Pence lying unabashedly, with a look of condescending bemusement every single time that Kaine came out with moral outrage at things Pence refused to acknowledge happened.
Because pundits and the media have, in the 60-year-old wake of the Nixon/Kennedy debates, valued entirely style over substance (never minding that as journalists they're supposed to look past whether Pence was calm or smooth, since the viewers can figure that one out on their own, and challenge the validity of their debates, since those casually turning in can't always get there), Pence surely won the debate based on that thin metric. However, he did so while also completely throwing his boss under the bus, and making him look bad.
Witness, this morning, Pence saying things he and Trump didn't say about Russia, immigration, and abortion, running concurrently with the actual clips of the men saying those things. This underlines not only comments that Trump made (makes for easy campaign fodder), but it also hurts Trump/Pence on trustworthiness, something that Trump has frequently outpaced Clinton on, and even brings into question how much Pence supports this ticket he's on; you won't be able to do the same things with Kaine because he was honest about Clinton's record, and supportive of her, even on issues that might alienate some voters. VP debates don't matter, period, but Kaine left this debate without having given Trump/Pence more campaign material-Pence, not so much.
|Sen. John Edwards (D-NC)|
I kept hearing this over and over again from pundits, that he was setting himself up for success in 2020, and in part I get where they're coming from. After all, as the wonderful Jon Lovett pointed out Tuesday on Twitter, "Kaine is running for Vice President in 2016, Pence is running for President in 2020." It's a quippy and apt depiction of the night, and a backhanded compliment to Pence, but particularly Trump (Lovett is a Democrat), but when people drive it further stating that Pence is the likely nominee in four years, I cannot help but roll my eyes.
The reality is that one of these two men will be vice president in a few weeks, and if the polls are any indication whatsoever, it will be Tim Kaine. That means that in four years, it's likely the Republicans will be running another open primary, but I have a lot of doubts that Pence will actually be able to be viable in the primary, and certainly not in the general. It's easy to treat him as a "generic Republican," but his record on a number of issues, but particularly LGBT and public health issues, are far out-of-sync with your average voter, and would be easy lobs in a general election. He may be able to run away from them when he's the VP nominee and only has one debate, but leaving thousands of people vulnerable to a disease is going to be solid campaign fodder not just for a President Clinton, but governors like John Kasich and Nikki Haley who can counter such things never happened in their states.
Additionally, people don't like losing VP nominees, particularly when they aren't incumbents. Four years ago we heard consistently that Paul Ryan would be the frontrunner this year. It didn't happen-he refused to even run. The same rumors were said for Sarah Palin, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, and Jack Kemp. Some of these people ran for president four years later, some of them didn't (but I'd wager all of them wanted to), but none of them won the primary. In fact you'd have to go back to 1984 for the last time a losing VP nominee went on to win the nomination, and that was Walter Mondale, who was the sitting vice president when he ran in 1980, a perch Mike Pence can't rely upon (additionally, the GOP would likely want to avoid any similarities to the '84 Mondale campaign). In fact, in the history of the Republican and Democratic Parties, only two non-incumbents have lost the vice presidential race only to go on to be the nominee: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Bob Dole, both of whom waited over a decade later to get the nomination, and both of whom added greatly to their resume in the meantime. FDR ended up becoming Governor of New York between 1920 and 1932 (his highest office in 1920 was Assistant Secretary of the Navy), while Bob Dole would become a longtime leader of the Senate GOP.
Pence won't have either of these advantages in the next four years, unless he challenges Sen. Joe Donnelly in 2018. He'll be 61 in 2020, and while he could conceivably stick around for another decade, without moving swiftly through the Senate, it's doubtful he'll be more than Joe Lieberman or John Edwards if he runs for the top spot-respectable, but not enough to win over the voters who made their previous bosses the nominees.
To use a favorite Trump-ism, "people keep saying that Pence gave a blueprint for how Republicans can move past Trump." Last night, they just pretended that Trump isn't going to exist come November 9th. It's quite apparent that the GOP establishment, at least, is sort of hoping that Trump disappears, and certainly his values/beliefs do, after Clinton more-than-likely wins so that they don't have a repeat of President Obama where a probable one-term president graduates to a successful two-term one.
The problem here is that Trump isn't an aberration, he's just the newest model. Herman Cain, Ben Carson, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz-all of these people are politicians the Republicans don't want mucking up a Paul Ryan's or Marco Rubio's chances, but you can't decide electoral strategy just in a boardroom. Four years ago the GOP decided it was important to moderate their stances on immigration and gay marriage or risk losing a generation of voters. This didn't work though-the 2014 Midterms brought a lot of new blood into the party, maybe even some future superstars like Larry Hogan or Joni Ernst, but it didn't really moderate their stances on select issues, and it certainly didn't prevent Donald Trump in 2016. Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush, arguably three of the brightest stars in the party two years ago, were clobbered by a racist, sexist bigot who espoused not only every view the GOP wanted to prevent, but dramatically shifted a number of their foreign policy and trade positions over the course of a year, to the point where it's hard to see the GOP recovering without having to do a ton of backflips. The reality is that while a number of GOP stars will run in 2020, including perhaps a few that ran in 2016, there's nothing really to prevent another Donald Trump from coming along because they haven't found a way to deal with this wing of their party other than hopeful prayer.
|Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)|
This idea comes into two camps-that Kaine's performance couldn't compare to Joe Biden's, and that the Democrats cannot possibly hold the White House for five terms.
The reality is that Joe Biden wasn't really "Joe Biden" eight years ago. He was a longtime senator from a small state who had run two unimpressive campaigns for the White House, and the only thing anyone remembered about them was his 1988 plagiarism scandal. In 2008, he was chosen largely to balance out then-Sen. Obama's inexperience in foreign policy, and to serve as a counter to the experience of John McCain. Biden had the good fortune that year to compete against Sarah Palin, who couldn't compete with Biden's decades of experience, and she wasn't ready for primetime or for going toe-to-toe on attacking Biden along with Obama (both of them just sort of went around each other-they rarely, if ever, during the debate, went after their own records).
In the eight years since, Biden became a beloved figure in the Democratic Party, gaffe-prone, sure, but beloved nonetheless. It says something that eight years ago we would have surely stated that the Democrats couldn't possibly win this year's election, and it's likely they will. It says even more that eight years later, only the most objective of people would be able to state that Joe Biden wouldn't have done better than Hillary Clinton, the latter of whom clobbered him in the primaries in 2008.
The point is-don't count chickens on an election eight years before it happens. Statistically it's unlikely for a party to hold power for longer than sixteen years, but not impossible. In the three times in American history where a party won a fourth consecutive term in the White House, they were able to follow that up with a fifth one. Tim Kaine will surely shed parts of his "awe shucks Dad" appeal in the next eight years as he's forced to deal with major foreign and domestic policy issues in the Clinton White House, just like Biden went from being your goofy uncle to being your goofy uncle that also happens to have the gravitas of the vice president.