Feel Free To Skip Tonight’s Vice-Presidential Debate, Because It’s Not Going To Matter

Nothing that happens tonight during the Vice-Presidential debate is likely to matter, so feel free to skip it.

Mike Pence Tim Kaine

Robert Tracinski has some advice about tonight’s Vice-Presidential debate between Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence, namely that you can feel free to skip it. He’s largely correct, which is why you should feel free to head to bed early, go out and catch a movie, watch tonight’s American League Wild Card Game between the Blue Jays and the Orioles, or even just watch paint dry. Any one of those activities is likely to be far more productive than the ninety minutes you’ll spend watching the two candidates for an office that former Vice-President John Nance Garner,  who served as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Vice-President for his first two terms in office, described as “not worth a bucket of warm piss.”

First of all, as Tracinski notes, there are unlikely to be any surprises coming out of tonight’s exchange. Both Kaine and Pence are experienced politicians who,, between them, have run for office numerous times stretching back at least a decade for Pence and some two decades for Kaine. They’ve debated their opponents on countless occasions and, while this debate will be different thanks to the size of the audience, this isn’t exactly a new format for them. Both men have likely been well-rehearsed and are familiar with the styles of the man at the other podium. Most importantly, that debate preparation will have included the instruction given to all running mates, namely that the first rule is to do no harm to the campaign or the candidate at the top of the ticket. The odds that either candidate will say or do something that could have an impact on the race, or even be newsworthy the next day, are therefore pretty low.

Second, Tracinski argues that gaffes don’t seem to matter in this election cycle, and his argument seems to be largely correct. The primary example of this, of course, is Donald Trump, who has said or done numerous things since the beginning of his campaign last June that, in any other election year, would mean the end of someone’s campaign. The same is true of Hillary Clinton, who has tripped over herself trying to answer questions about things like her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State numerous times with no real impact on her campaign. Given that the Presidential candidate’s own gaffes have failed to derail their campaign, the odds that something their running mate says tonight will do that are basically zero.

More importantly, as we’ve seen through many election cycles now, it is almost never the case that a running mate has any measurable impact on the outcome of a Presidential race, for either good or bad:

In 1988, for example, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis selected Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate. Bentsen was highly regarded by politicians on both sides of the aisle and arguably could have been a good candidate for President in his own right, and there was little question that he was someone the nation could consider ready to take over should something happen to the President.  That same year, to the surprise of many, George H.W. Bush selected Dan Quayle, the 42 year old junior Senator from Indiana, as his running. To say that the selection was puzzling is an understatement, and Quayle did not exactly impress many people during his roll out on the national stage. Despite the contrast in the qualifications and perceptions about their respective running mates, picking Bentsen didn’t help Dukakis significantly and picking Dan Quayle didn’t seem to hurt George Bush, who won the Presidency in a landslide, albeit one that wasn’t quite as overwhelming as President Reagan’s wins in1980 and 1984 and which didn’t deliver control of either house of Congress. Similarly, John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin likely didn’t have much of an impact on the outcome of the 2008 election, which Republicans were unlikely to win in any case and Mitt Romney selecting Paul Ryan didn’t help him capture Midwestern statesthat have been out of the Republican orbit since the 1992 election.

So, feel free to do something productive tonight, or something totally unproductive if you so choose, because there’s really nothing about tonight’s debate that’s going to matter in the long run. Which is appropriate, I suppose, considering that these two men are running for an office that John Nance Garner, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first Vice-President, described as “not worth a bucket of warm piss,” this is entirely appropriate.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Mr. Bluster says:

    “not worth a bucket of warm piss,”

    till the hammer drops…

  2. Franklin says:

    I was told Pence was dumber than a box of rocks, and I wanted to see for myself.

  3. PJ says:

    I wonder why someone writing for The Federalist would want people to skip the Vice Presidential debate…
    Seems like he doesn’t want people getting to know Pence for some reason…

    Considering that Trump has said the he would focus on “Making America Great Again” ™, and leave all the hard work for his VP, getting to know Pence would seem to be quite important…

  4. MarkedMan says:

    I have to admit that if I do watch, it will primarily be because Pence has a reputation for scoring on the lower end of the intelligence spectrum and there is a small chance he could be entertaining for that reason. It might be interesting if Kaine calls him out for how often Pence tries to ‘explain’ Trumps position only to have Trump double down an hour or so later leaving Pence out to dry. The most interesting thing would be if Kaine pointed out that Trump obviously has no respect or interest or even awareness of Pence. But I suspect Kaine is too nice of a guy for that

  5. ltmcdies says:

    this in from Donald Trump…just leaving it right here:

    “I will be watching the great Governor @Mike_Pence and live tweeting the VP debate tonight starting at 8:30pm est! Enjoy!”

  6. MikeSJ says:

    I’d say this is important because Pence could be a front runner in 2020.

    Iowa loves him and Iowa makes or breaks candidates far too often.

    I agree in terms of this election their debate won’t move any polls but finding out what Pence is really like – an extremely anti gay, social conservative – could make a long term difference.

    That and I’ve also heard he was a dummy so I’m hoping he steps on a rake during the debate.

  7. CSK says:


    Oh, dear Gawd. I can imagine the Tweets:

    1. @Mike_Pence debating almost as good as me!!!! Winner!

    2. @Tim_Kaine. Crooked Hillary made bad choice!!!! Loser!!!!

    3. Moderator Elaine Quijanos has blood coming out of her whatever. Sad!!!

    4. Kaine’s wife not a 10!!! Sad!!

  8. CSK says:


    I wonder who talked him into picking Pence.

    Or was Pence the only one who would accept?

  9. ltmcdies says:


    I pick door #2….nobody else going near this dumpster fire….

  10. MarkedMan says:


  11. CSK says:


    I think you’re right. And…Pence may be hoping for a shot at 2020. He may also be figuring that Trump will get bored and bail after a few months, elevating Pence to the presidency. I don’t think the latter is an unreasonable assumption, but it depends on Trump winning in November, which I don’t think is possible.

  12. MarkedMan says:


    Or was Pence the only one who would accept?

    As I recall his short list consisted of Gingrich, Giulliani, Christie and Pence. And you know he was going to pick the least colorful one

  13. MarkedMan says:

    So Trump is going to be tweeting during Pence’s big moment. He’s frigging Kanye to Pence’s Taylor Swift.

  14. Scott says:

    Pence took the nomination because 1) not many were willing to and 2) there was a good chance he was going to lose his reelection as Governor.

  15. Davebo says:


    You might wonder more why Doug chose a writer from The Federalist to make his point.

    The answer? Because despite his protestations Doug the Pseudo Libertarian loves that shit!

    And late at night when the kids go to bed Jim reads it gleefully too. Moderates indeed.

  16. CSK says:


    Well, of course he’s going to be Tweeting during Pence’s big moments. God forbid the attention should be focused on Pence. Maybe Trump can start a fight with another D-list celebrity in the middle of the debate.

    I understand that Trump’s enthusiastic supporters are beyond salvage. What I’m not getting is how anyone wavering could not possibly grasp that this man is seriously mentally ill.

  17. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I realize that this would be highly unwise, but I would really like to see Kaine deliver some sick burns in Spanish.

  18. Jen says:

    The GOP has already apparently sent out a press release announcing Pence won:


    This debate is important for the sole reason that Trump doesn’t want to do the hard work that Pence would end up with.

  19. Jen says:


    This wasn’t a press release that was sent out, it was posted on the RNC’s website, along with several other posts, including “5 questions Tim Kaine was NOT asked” and “It’s clear who lost the VP debate, Hillary Clinton.”

    All pages are now showing a 404 error, but good grief that is some bad planning.

  20. ltmcdies says:

    @Jen: “The cyber” can be tough I guess.

    Also….you think Tim Kaine is now doing some adjustments…. bwaaahhhh

  21. Tyrell says:

    Another option is watching the Odell Beckham Jr. highlights reel.

  22. CSK says:


    The Twitter link you provided is still working, though.

  23. Slugger says:

    I love announcing the winner before the debate. I know that my candidate wins all the debates.

  24. grumpy realist says:

    I think my virtuousness will consist of finishing up the writing of an invoice for this latest translating job I just plowed through, drinking a glass of hard cider, and calling it a day.

  25. CSK says:

    Apparently Hope Hicks, Steve Bannon, Dan Scavino, and Steve Miller are babysitting Trump while he Tweets tonight.

  26. michael reynolds says:

    55/45 Pence.

  27. Argon says:


    I was told Pence was dumber than a box of rocks, and I wanted to see for myself.

    Pretty close description, considering his performance.

  28. PJ says:


    I love announcing the winner before the debate. I know that my candidate wins all the debates.

    I guess the GOP decided to follow Robert Tracinski’s advice.

  29. Jc says:

    @michael reynolds: proof you can deny reality, asPence did many times in saying things that were said were never said, yet still be considered the debate winner. I hope they do a whole ad on Pence saying “he never said that” with the Donald actually saying those exact things.

  30. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @michael reynolds:

    55/45 Pence.

    But that’s like saying that the band was really good on the Titanic.

    Yep, Kaine was wired, and can you blame him? There were SO many targets.

    Pence gets a nod for not going up in flames, but then again, Pence was running as a traditional conservative republican. His running mate ain’t.

    So he can get credit for doing a fair job.

    Trump has two more at bat.

    Schwwwwing batta batta Schwwwwing! 🙂

  31. Liberal Capitalist says:


    I hope they do a whole ad on Pence saying “he never said that” with the Donald actually saying those exact things.

    With Pence just shaking his head after all of them… just like his denial during the debates.

    That would be AWESOME !!! I would pay for that !

  32. MarkedMan says:

    Looking at the pundit roll this morning it seems that many Republicans were comparing Trumps performance unfavorably to Pence’s. I wonder if Trump will lash out at Pence.

  33. CSK says:


    Bet on it.