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The VP Debate Was a Dull but Pleasant Refresher on What Politics Used to Be

The VP Debate Was a Dull but Pleasant Refresher on What Politics Used to Be: Mark Wilson / Getty

Mark Wilson / Getty

Remember back in the aughts (and before) when just about every Democratic and Republican presidential ticket included experienced politicians who were boring white dudes? Doesn’t it sound nostalgic, for better or for worse? The fact that America will be picking between a former First Lady and a reality TV star this year has lost its luster simply because there’s no getting out of it a this point. The insanity of 2016 is so insane that we’ve almost become immune, but no matter how weird this is, we’re still having an election on November 8.

Thank God for Governor Mike Pence and Senator Tim Kaine. Your strict stepfather and awkward uncle are both kind of condescending. They bicker and carry so much water for their presidential daddy and mama that they should be collapsing. As they proved in the vice presidential debate, they represent politics in a more familiar form, and thatm for once, was sort of soothing.

Strangely, the extremely religious Hoosier did better at the barely touted “first and only” vice presidential debate. He got in some nice digs at Kaine, who kept shooting off overly practiced zingers. Kaine was a little too proud of his “Do you want a you’re hired president in Hillary Clinton, or do you want a you’re fired president in Donald Trump?“ line. He’s been reciting it for months now.

Kaine, perhaps trying to get away from his chill (read: boring) reputation went viciously on the offensive early and often. The result was that he just looked like a jerk. Pence, with his relaxed tone and responses, looked better because of it. Bouth dudes railroaded the moderator, CBS News’s Elaine Quijano. Both candidates ignored her questions, went over their time limits, changed topics and squabbled like well-educated high schools students. She, the teacher, didn’t have the presence to get them to pay attention.

It was a tedious, snippy debate between two people who have dreamy portraits of their ticket mates. More importantly, each had their own records to defend and maybe even their presidential dreams, especially for Pence. Only 14 vice presidents have become Commander in Chief, and that’s counting those who ascended to the high office because of the assassinations or deaths of their original bosses.

Some vice presidents, like Dick Cheney, were known to possess a novel amount of influence. Donald Trump is a complete amateur and one who many argue is more interested in the ego trip of being the most powerful person in the world than he is in actual policy-making. Pence seems disturbingly ready to fill the gaps as de facto president. As unpleasant as it is to see Trump in the Republican Party, Pence is a sincere, socially conservative throwback and represents every ideal the party of elephants has survived on for years. That could be just as bad as a “You’re Fired President.”

And then there’s Tim Kaine. Clinton is dying to hang up her coat in the Oval Office and get down to business, which for some as terrifying as Trump’s disinterest. Kaine isn’t likely to possess the same type of power that Cheney had unless Clinton really trusts him. (In reality, does she trust anyone other than Huma?) It feels more like that Kaine was picked to give her ticket Experienced White Guy cred and not because they’re political soulmates. A Tim Kaine vice presidency would likely look very much like a Selena Meyer vice presidency.

The VP debate was surprisingly concentrated on foreign policy and community policing. Both men were atrocious on the former, determined to out-hawk each other. In Trump, you have a man too pleased with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. In Clinton, you have a woman who is willing to go head-to-head with him in the middle of Syria. On immigration, Kaine scored some good points by pointing out how many millions of people Trump planned to round up and deport under his scheme. He estimated it at 16 million, which includes the children of undocumented immigrants. Pence disputed this without taking a position on whether mass deportation is wrong. Kaine also correctly noted that sainted Republicans like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were less harsh on immigrants than Trump hopes to be.

But at least they were often fighting over important matters. They clashed over police brutality, with Pence touting his boss’s endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Pence said the stop-and-frisk program is just swell. Kaine, a former defense attorney, disputed that.

The end result is a familiar story in the annals of old-school politics. The jerk who came off a little less alarming and a little more flustered lost; the social con who is ready to do the heavy lifting for his president and made himself look classy on a national stage won. What does it matter? It doesn’t, really. Neither did anything brazen enough to move the needle. Enjoy that sanity while you can.

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