Message v. Audience

Tim Kaine and Mike Pence duked it out at the Vice Presidential Debate. My initial impression of Gov. Pence was he sounded like a confident baritone. However listing to Sen. Kaine was sadly similar to the television character Barnie Fife. Kaine’s tone was interrupting at times muddled with lots of information to provide in response to rhetoric delivered by Trump. Instead, the debate was lost in transit. Kaine seemed to fail on delivering an effective punch line despite having a dossier of Trump failures and past poor performances.

However, when it came to practical answers, Sen. Kaine connected with solid answers. This is where it is tricky. Kaine had the answers, but I feel he did not connect them well to the audience. Gov. Pence did not engage in response to some questions. In some instances, Gov. Pence was either speechless or quiescent. For example, during the debate, Sen. Kaine responded to a question about Mr. Trump and his contentious bias. Instead of responding, Gov. Pence turned away from the camera without providing any comment. It was an extraordinary and restrained moment that may raise further questions or inquiry. However, a remarkable silver lining appeared for Pence. I feel Pence was able to score well with the audience. While it may be true Pence was using up the clock a bit to agitate Kaine; it may prove to be effective and a solid overall tally that Pence may have won the debate.

Sen. Kaine did an excellent job of answering questions and was prepared. What I would have hoped for is for Sen. Kaine to speak to his audience as if he had to assume the role of the President and to slow his delivery in a calmer manner. I felt Kaine missed many opportunities to deliver a simple message. Instead, he sounded a bit like the “guy invited to prom by the girl making it sound as if it is his car in the parking lot- not his dad’s.”

Gov. Pence seemed just as prepared. What I found most interesting was his use of the camera, mannerisms, and control. Pence commanded the camera and audience tone. He delivered a very clear and straightforward message without any supporting plan, proof or confusing statistics. In fact, I felt comfortable with Pence that his performance was fresh and calm. In fact, it felt as if he should be running for President and Trump would be on the Vice Presidential ticket. Reality set in later and my notes could not provide one proof concrete plan by the Trump-Pence ticket. Pence repeatedly mentions to the audience about a “The Trump Plan” mixed with Trump’s enormous business successes without ever delivering validation that it exists for review. It somewhat felt like an episode of an old western movie where the snake oil salesman came to the town. However, what I did connect with is that Pence may have his sights on something greater after this election. Tonight I think he proved that he is a strong future candidate for President.

The poor moderator, Elaine Quijano, didn’t have much control over the debate. Her questions seemed ignored or rejected altogether because of back and forth nit picking. Nearly each issue that Quijano asked didn’t receive a proper answer because the standard answer by each candidate was, “can I respond to that last question?” A moderator should assume control like a good reporter and project manager by remaining focused on the agenda at hand. Maybe town hall debates might put candidates back on track and allow America to get to know candidates better.

Sure, both candidates appeared polished and scripted. However, the bigger issue at hand is not “a heartbeat away” from becoming the next President. However, how will they influence policy and the Senate as a presiding officer and powerful part of the administration? Instead, I think this debate may set the national tone and its impact. What is more important? Getting the message right or connecting with the audience? It should be interesting how poll numbers change after the debate to determine that strategy.

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