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Many previews of last night’s Vice Presidential debate predicted a calm evening. Instead, it was a crackling contest in Virginia. Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence went head-to-head on everything from Taxes to Vladimir Putin, frequently talking over one another as moderator Elaine Quijano struggled to maintain control. Kaine was on the attack from the start. He quoted many of Trump’s most controversial comments, while Pence managed to avoid directly defending most of them. But the two also had substantive debate over issues like policing and foreign policy. Our panel discusses the VP debate, and what it could mean for the presidential election.
- Stephen Dinan Political editor, The Washington Times
- Rebecca Sinderbrand Deputy national political editor, The Washington Post
- David Leonhardt Op-ed columnist, The New York Times; former editor, The Upshot, a New York Times website covering politics and policy
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I’m Diane Rehm. By most accounts, Donald Trump's campaign had been struggling going into last night's vice presidential debate, but many say Governor Mike Pence reassured supporters with his steady debate performance. His opponent, Tim Kaine, stuck to a strategy of aggressively attacking Trump's rhetoric and interrupting Pence. But Kaine may have been more solid on the facts.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about all this and what both candidates had to say about major issues, Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times, Rebecca Sinderbrand of The Washington Post and David Leonhardt of the New York Times. I'm sure many of you will want to weigh in with your own opinions. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MS. DIANE REHMFollow us on Facebook or Twitter. And thanks to all of you for being here.
MR. STEPHEN DINANHello, Diane.
MR. DAVID LEONHARDTHi, Diane.
MS. REBECCA SINDERBRANDHello.
REHMGood to see you all. Rebecca, lots of energy in that debate last night. Were you surprised?
SINDERBRANDYeah, oddly enough. You know, ahead of the debate, we were actually having a debate ourselves about what to call this. Was it going to be the battle of the blands or the thrilla in Vanilla (sic) ? We were just trying to figure out what the T-shirt should say. But it actually -- it couldn't have been less interesting. It was more interesting. It actually kept people engaged in the newsroom.
REHMAnd for Kaine's strategy, David, attack, attack, attack?
LEONHARDTAttack, attack, attack. I think Kaine did some things well and some things less well. I think the less well is sort of the conventional wisdom this morning, that he interrupted Pence a lot. Pence seemed like the polished debater in many ways. He was more calm and more composed. But I also think there's a pretty good chance that the Clinton campaign here was setting something up and that what Kaine was doing was trying to make Trump the story coming out of the debate.
LEONHARDTAnd while Pence was effective in terms of style, he also told significant number of things that simply weren't true, right? I mean, both candidates engaged in shading, as they always do, but Pence out and out denied, saying Donald Trump never said that when, in fact, there's clear records that he has said it. And so we've already seen these videos out this morning in which people have spliced Pence saying, Trump never said that, and then you immediately see Trump saying that.
REHMAnd here's an example. Kaine was certainly well prepared to rattle off some of Trump's most controversial remarks. Here's an example and Pence's response.
SEN. TIME KAINEWhen Donald Trump says women should be punished or Mexicans are rapists and criminals...
GOV MIKE PENCEI'm telling you...
KAINE...or John McCain is not a hero, he is showing you who he is.
PENCESenator, that -- you've whipped out that Mexican thing again. He -- look...
KAINECan you defend it?
PENCEThere are criminal aliens in this country, Tim.
REHMStephen, Pence seemed to avoid responding directly to what Kaine was saying.
DINANYeah, very much so. And you heard him repeatedly go back to, you know, either that's not true or well, what, you know, what he was trying to say and then quickly shifting either to an attack on Clinton or a more general applauded for Donald Trump. Look, Mike Pence had a very difficult job last night and that is matching up -- first of all, both of these vice presidential nominees are really decent men and they're good guys and folks on Capitol Hill -- I covered Virginia politics for awhile.
DINANTim Kaine has a great reputation there. They're decent men. Tim Kaine's challenge last night was to -- well, both of them had the challenge of trying to be the attack dog while also trying to be somewhat more polished. You saw -- I guess I'd put it this way. Mike Pence had -- I'm sorry. I'm sorry about this. Mike Pence had a problem with having to match up Donald Trump and his words.
DINANThere are so many of them out that if you're Mike Pence -- and you can pick and choose just like Donald Trump's voters are doing, you pick and choose between what you want to hear him say and what he's actually said. And stacking those up, as David said earlier, stacking those up is going to be a very bad day when you look at the videos matching.
SINDERBRANDAnd you know, I think, actually, it was a challenge for Tim Kaine that he wasn't necessarily expecting. He came prepared to do battle with Donald Trump, both stylistically. You know, if he was on stage with Donald Trump, that more aggressive style might have played well. And in terms of policy, he was ready to push back on Donald Trump's positions. He wasn't ready for someone who was going to out -- not just not to defend the positions, but to insist that those positions did not actually exist.
SINDERBRANDSo it threw Tim Kaine off his game, clearly, from the very beginning.
LEONHARDTI mean, I think Kaine could've had a better night than he did, but I also think he really was playing a larger game here. I think Pence -- as Stephen said, Pence had a very hard job. It's not clear what Pence's main objective here was. I mean, Pence's main objective may have been to help Mike Pence as much as it was to help Donald Trump, maybe more. And I think Tim Kaine was perfectly happy to play the classic role of attack dog.
LEONHARDTIt is a victory for Tim Kaine and Hillary Clinton if what comes out of this debate is a combination of people saying, Tim Kaine, it wasn't perfect. He could've done this better, but...
LEONHARDT...but then we go to talking about Donald Trump calling women pigs, Donald Trump calling people racist, Donald Trump mocking the disabled. That is still a victory for Tim Kaine.
REHMBut each time Pence seemed to want to turn things back to Hillary Clinton without defending Trumps comments.
PENCEOurs is an insult-driven campaign? I mean, to be honest with you, if Donald Trump has said all the things that you've said he said in the way you said you said he said them, he still wouldn't have a fraction of the insults that Hillary Clinton leveled when she said that half of our supporters were a basket of deplorables.
REHMAnd that comment is going to haunt Hillary throughout the campaign.
SINDERBRANDYou know, the interesting thing is, if you tuned in to the campaign for the first time last night, you know, you'd been living under a rock for all of 2016 until that moment, you would see these two men on the stage and you might even buy it. But for most of the country that has been watching Donald Trump, even Donald Trump's own supporters say that he has run a more perhaps insult-driven campaign than Hillary Clinton per the polling.
SINDERBRANDSo that line of attack, you know, on stage at that moment, given the dynamic, I might have made sense, but in the bigger picture, kind of reading it, if you're looking at the transcript rather than hearing it come from Mike Pence's gentle tones, it doesn't quite make a ton of sense.
DINANSo what I was trying to say earlier is I went into this debate actually fully expecting both of these candidates to come off -- I figured that voters would walk away saying, gosh, I wish that both of those guys had been at the top of the ticket. With Mike Pence, I think most voters probably did walk away with thinking that. With Tim Kaine, probably a lot of voters didn't necessarily walk away thinking that. In a way, as David was saying, that may actually be better for Hillary Clinton in that, you know, first of all, Mike Pence overshadowing Donald Trump in terms of being, apparently, a more decent man, having a good grasp of the facts, even if he didn't want to defend Donald Trump's fact.
DINANAnd overall, I think that probably -- look, people will say Mike Pence won the debate and on a points, you know, scoring sort of stylistically, that may be true. But walking out of this, Hillary Clinton is probably the better looking candidate compared with her vice presidential nominee.
LEONHARDTYeah, I think that's right. I also think it's important to talk about this question of -- when we talk about who won the debate, right, there's the style points. And I agree. I think -- I would agree with the conventional wisdom on style that Pence did. But it's our job also to talk about the substance here, right?
LEONHARDTThe facts. And, you know, Pence engaged in substantially more untruths than Kaine did.
LEONHARDTSubstantially more. They both shaded the truth around different things, but there was never a moment that Kaine had and Pence had, I don't know, a half dozen of them where he said that's inaccurate. He never said that. And he was simply out and out not telling truth.
REHMYou're not using the word lie.
LEONHARDTHe was lying. I'll use the word.
LEONHARDTI think lying -- I think you want to be careful with the lying, right, because there's a difference between untruths and lies, right? To me, lies means knowing telling an untruth and I think often people say things that we can show are untrue later. But I think last night, Pence did use some lies, right, because he has to know that Trump has said some of these things.
REHMWhat do you think, Rebecca?
SINDERBRANDI think, you know, it was interesting in that Mike Pence delivered positions which probably sincerely are Mike Pence's positions. They just weren't Donald Trump's positions, which were the ones the Tim Kaine was asking about. And I think David's absolutely right. You know, when you come down to the substance of it, you can't quite look at scientific -- we can't say these post-debate polls are scientific in any way, but they do say that, yes, Pence absolutely won on style, but when it came to substance, the early reaction seemed to be that Kaine had the edge there.
REHMI want to ask about one thing that Pence said. He said the Clinton Foundation gives less than ten cents on the dollar to charitable causes. Now, true or false?
SINDERBRANDThat is untrue, according to basically all analysis. You know, as Tim Kaine mentioned, the ratings from the groups that rate how charities are effective in their given, have given the Clinton Foundation their highest ratings in terms of the overwhelming majority of the money that goes to the Clinton Foundation does actually go to the causes it supports, rather than administration and overhead. If you're listening at home and you're someone who's not going to follow up and get those fact checks afterwards, it sounds pretty convincing in the moment.
SINDERBRANDYou hear a number like ten percent. It rings out there. It sounds so assured and so true. That may be the gamble he was taking.
REHMCNN's reality check said that, in fact, the Clinton Foundation spent 88 percent of its budget on charitable programs. So lots of fact-checking going on and lots of conversation about who won, who lost, who was more effective, who was not. I'd like to hear from you because you were out there watching. I assume you were out there watching. Even if you weren't, give us a call, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back. Don't know how many watched last night's vice presidential debate, but those who did certainly found it surprising in its energy, in its vitality, in the kinds of exchanges that both Senator Kaine and Governor Pence had in that studio. We've got three people here who watched very carefully, Rebecca Sinderbrand of The Washington Post, David Leonhardt, he's an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, and Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times.
REHMI must say when we talk about foreign policy, Rebecca, what do you make of what each candidate had to say? Pence really, really different from Trump on this, did he not?
SINDERBRANDOh absolutely, and, you know, again circles back to Tim Kaine came ready to hammer Mike Pence on Vladimir Putin. This has been something that's been on the trail for -- Hillary Clinton has been hitting Donald Trump for weeks, and there's actually, of course, a huge, stark difference between the way Donald Trump talks about the Russian leader and the way Hillary Clinton does. But there isn't a huge difference between the way Mike Pence talks about the Russian leader and the way Hillary Clinton does.
SINDERBRANDAnd so that was the problem for Tim Kaine. Now, you know, it wasn't, again, necessarily being dishonest. That probably clearly is what Mike Pence thinks himself. It just isn't the opinion at the top of ticket.
DINANYeah, you know, and that's sort of the problem with the vice presidential debate overall is how much of this is really about getting to know these people? In football there used to be a second to the Super Bowl, the third- and fourth-place teams used to face off in what was called the Playoff Bowl. And one coach who famously lost that was asked afterwards how he felt, and he's, like, oh well, basically meaning this really doesn't matter.
DINANThe two vice presidential nominees, you know, they are there. As Tim Kaine began, he said, after the moderator asked him are you qualified, do you have the leadership to be vice president and step into the role, he went through an explanation and said, but look, my real job here is to be the right-hand person to Hillary Clinton, and that's what the challenge for everybody in a vice presidential debate is, is trying to explain who you are but more importantly getting at the top of the ticket. And Mike Pence I think very deftly and maybe a little bit slickly managed to bridge that gap.
REHMNow it's interesting, we've got an email from James in St. Louis. Do you think Mr. Pence launched his 2020 bid for the presidency last night, David Leonhardt?
LEONHARDTYes, unless he -- unless it had already been launched. I mean, clearly I think Pence is a really strong conservative. He grew up as a talk show host and TV host in Indiana. Stephen said before he's personally popular on Capitol Hill. He's been a congressman, very, very conservative congressman, now a very conservative governor of Indiana.
LEONHARDTThe big question for all Republicans in this year, if Trump loses, which is substantially more likely than he wins, is what was the right place to be. Was the right place to be anti-Trump, which is where many of the elites of the party are, or is the right place actually not to have been anti-Trump because of how popular remains with Republican voters?
LEONHARDTThere's a chance that Mike Pence will emerge. We just don't know. We'll emerge having sort of thread that needle, popular because he went with Trump. But look, at this point I would say that all of us should have enormous humility about predicting who will be the nominee of the Republican Party in 2020.
REHMAll right, let's take a call from Evansville, Indiana. Jennifer, you're on the air.
JENNIFERHi, thank you for taking my call.
JENNIFERI'm sorry. I am a 59-year-old woman. I have never registered to vote until this year. I never saw the need for it. I figure that people are in the same boat I am no matter if you vote or not. This year I decided to register because I am totally opposed to some of the Trump characteristics of a person running for president. I am so confused, though, after watching the debate last night. To me, I wish Hillary and Pence were running together.
JENNIFERBut, you know, as a person that doesn't -- I don't consider myself a very political person, I don't follow a lot of things, how in the world do you make a decision? I'm back to the point of thinking, oh, well, just don't even vote, you know, they're both, you know, you just don't know what to do. I...
REHMWhat do you think? There are probably lots of folks out there who are saying exactly the same thing.
DINANI think if there are a lot of people like that caller, then Donald Trump will consider last night's debate a huge victory. If Mike Pence is able to chase Hillary voters out of the voting booth, that will be a very big victory for Donald Trump.
REHMDo you agree?
SINDERBRANDOh absolutely, it would be. I mean, we of course have to put an asterisk on this entire discussion, and it's a given that 48 hours from now, will we still be thinking about these men, will we still be talking about these men. You know, the conversation about 2020, this is one of the first times that you can say with some assurance that neither of the two men on stage at this moment, assuming one of their tickets loses, would necessarily be the frontrunner or near the frontrunner for their party's nomination in 2020. So...
LEONHARDTI would encourage you to watch at least one of the two remaining presidential debates. I would encourage you to go to both candidates' websites. Part of the points last night was to fuzz the differences between them. These are extremely different candidates and campaigns. And I think if you spend more time with them, you should emerge with a sense of that difference and which one you're more comfortable with.
REHMAll right, here's an email from Bruce in Herndon, Virginia. He says, I'm a Clinton/Kaine supporter, but I was appalled by Kaine's rudeness in the debate last night. If the objective is to sway undecided voters, he failed miserably. Can a performance like that, where one of the candidates interrupts, truly sway?
LEONHARDTIt would be a first. There is -- there are very few instances of presidential debates moving the polls, and in fact a lot of the stories that are told about presidential debates moving the polls, when you go look at the polls, the evidence is really thin. So the famous Gerald Ford mistake, where he said there is no Soviet domination, if you're just looking at the polls, there's no evidence that that happened.
LEONHARDTIt's not that debates can never move polls. There -- I am certainly not aware of a single instance in which a vice presidential debate moved the polls. So it is possible. I would be extremely surprised if four weeks from now we're looking back on this as a turning point either way.
REHMAnd Stephen, here's an email from Donna in Raleigh, North Carolina, who says I'd be interested in the panelists' thoughts that Pence sounded very much like Reagan, including there you go again.
DINANYeah, and I wonder if he was looking for a chance to introduce that line into this debate. Look, you know, as David said earlier, Mike Pence, very, very conservative, but he's also got, you know, this was the Reagan mantra, a happy warrior sort of ethos to him. And, you know, on Capitol Hill, he was known for very hardcore Republican positions, but he was also eager to engage the press and put those positions out there and argue for them.
DINANWhen a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill treated the media as enemies and were, like, why do we want to deal with them, he was really eager to go out there and have these arguments and put a very happy, positive face on their arguments. And so yeah, a bit of a Reaganesque thing there, and I, going back to the 2020 question, look, I think that the moment that Donald Trump picked him, he became one of the frontrunners for the 2020 nomination.
DINANMaybe the most important thing about this is the comparison between him and Ted Cruz, and I think Ted Cruz' convention speech, compared to Mike Pence last night, makes Mike Pence probably the more prominent pick for social conservatives in 2020.
REHMTo Dave in Richmond, Virginia, you're on the air.
DAVEGood morning, Diane, thanks for taking my call.
DAVEMy concern is actually with who Mike Pence is, and I think he showed us right near the end of the debate. I'm a conservative but I'm nowhere near as conservative as he is. He seems to say that he can impose his religious beliefs on the world at large or his state or his country. To me this sounds very much like the Taliban. That's what the Taliban is doing in their country over there. They're imposing their religious will on everybody else.
SINDERBRANDWell, you know, it's interesting in that social conservative issues have largely been absent from the main discussion around the debate.
REHMExcept that he did talk about his religious beliefs at the end.
SINDERBRANDThat's -- what I mean is in terms of the 2016 campaign. You look at the top of the ticket, Donald Trump is not someone who emphasizes abortion issues if he has the chance or gay marriage issues. That's just not who he is. That is who Mike Pence is. And so last night you got a glimpse of that. That's something that of course really resonated with social conservatives. You saw on social media people who are never Trump, who said they will absolutely never support Donald Trump, prominent conservatives, saying they're giving Pence another look now, they liked what they saw in part because they haven't heard that kind of talk from the Republican ticket this year except by Mike Pence.
LEONHARDTSo this was a fascinating moment in the debate, and it hasn't gotten a lot of attention this morning, but I'm really glad the caller brought it up. I think stylistically it was probably Pence's worst moment. Elaine Quijano, the moderator, said tell us about a time when your own personal religious beliefs and your public service conflicted. And Kaine answered the question very seriously. He talked about his Catholic faith, his opposition to the death penalty but how as governor of Virginia he had to carry it out.
LEONHARDTIt's interesting, when he started that answer, I assumed he was going to talk about abortion because Tim Kaine has said he's personally against abortion, but that doesn't mean that he thinks that our government should pass laws against abortion. I'm guessing he didn't because that's an answer that would make the Democratic base very uncomfortable, even hearing that he's personally against abortion.
LEONHARDTSo then it was Pence's turn, and he just didn't answer the question. Instead he talked about his own religious faith and his opposition to abortion, but he never talked about any kind of personal struggle. And instead he pivoted to a relatively graceless attack on Hillary Clinton. And it really was -- again, I would argue his worst moments were the substantive ones, where he claimed -- where he didn't tell the truth, but to me this was Pence's stylistically worst moment. He didn't look humble. He didn't answer the question. And I wouldn't compare him to the Taliban, as the caller did, but I think the caller is really right to highlight that moment as a bad one for Pence.
DINANYeah, I don't disagree with that. I guess I would add in, though, that what Pence was trying to do there is exactly what Rebecca said earlier. Look, there are a lot of Republicans who are not -- social conservative Republicans who are not sold on Donald Trump. And what Mike Pence was doing in that moment was saying look -- and you heard him say, I think two or three different times there, I'm proud to be on a ticket with a pro-life Republican in Donald Trump, essentially trying to erase the 1999 comments that Donald Trump where he was very pro-choice and saying I know this guy, all you social conservatives who trust me, trust that I know Donald Trump, he will -- he'll be on your issues.
DINANAnd so I agree with you, it was not a stylistically great moment for him, and he did not answer the question. Tim Kaine gave a very thoughtful answer. But he did exactly what he wanted to do there, which is say all of you people who still have reservations, trust me on this guy.
SINDERBRANDThat's right. That's exactly right. You know, it didn't look good, but it's getting the job done in terms of the audience as a whole, people that the -- however many million people were watching, that wasn't necessarily the people he was trying to reach. It's the people in the base. This is actually -- you know, you talk about the undecided voters. There aren't a ton of people who are truly undecided, who actually are not sure whether they are Hillary Clinton voters or Hillary Clinton leaners or Donald Trump voters or leaners.
SINDERBRANDBut you have the base, and the question is how enthusiastic the base is, and you've seen these candidates rise and fall in the polls based on how enthusiastic the base is about their candidacy.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Charlottesville, Virginia, James, you're on the air.
JAMESThank you for taking my call. I'm amazed I got through.
JAMESAnyway, I had two comments. One, there's been an awful lot of stuff talked about how somehow Tim Kaine was rude, and I don't -- my observation, and I watched the whole shebang, my observation was that no matter what Ms. Quijano said, Pence just kept right on talking and talking and talking and then talked some more and just never was quiet. So that was just one observation.
JAMESBut the other thing was, which an earlier call said, was I was absolutely stunned to basically hear Pence comment that, oh, I think my religious belief somehow trumps the First Amendment. Oh, yes, it's all right, I'm going to force my belief that everybody live by my standards, and that is actually a kind of scary attitude.
LEONHARDTI mean, look, that is -- I understand why people who are pro-choice view the anti-choice, the pro-life policy as forcing religious beliefs down the throats of others. I do think it's important to think about it from the perspective of Mike Pence and the millions of Americans who agree with him, which is that this isn't just a matter of their religious beliefs, it's also the matter of a human life. And so yes, it is certainly true that Mike Pence wants to subject Americans to his religious beliefs on this issue, I think what he would argue is when you're talking about human life, it is worth it.
LEONHARDTI'm not making that argument. I just think it's important given how divided our country for us to try to think about the way the other side on these debates thinks about things, and that to me is a legitimate argument for a political party to be making.
REHMHowever, at the same time you've got people saying, well, if his religious views are overwhelming the Constitution, we ought to give that a second thought.
LEONHARDTI agree. I guess I'm saying, he's not saying my religious views are Evangelical Christian, and therefore I want to make everyone go to church on Sunday. He's saying my religious views are Evangelical Christian, and to me that means we need to stop this taking of human life. I'm using his words here, not mine. But I think there really is a difference here, and I think the debate on abortion over what's truly constitutional and what's not is a legitimate debate that scholars have been having for a long time.
LEONHARDTAnd so I'm not saying he's right, and James is wrong at all. But I do think it's just important to think about how both sides think about this extremely difficult issue.
SINDERBRANDAnd again, you know, just underlining what David said, I think it's important to note there's a huge constituency of people out there who share this view. That said, you know, this isn't the man at the top of the ticket. So if you are someone who's thinking about Donald Trump, and you are someone who does not share these views, you're able to kind of put them aside, put them in a box and say you know what, he isn't at the top of the ticket, he isn't the presidential candidate here, so he's able to both speak for the people who share those views but on the other hand not necessarily alienate people who might be Trump supporters but not share them.
DINANYou know, I think this was probably Tim Kaine's best moment in the debate. First of all, of course, it was actually a question about the two vice presidential candidates themselves, which was great to see, and they actually got to talk about themselves and their own -- Tim Kaine's position, he actually talked about his struggle, and I thought that was a very important and valuable moment.
REHMAll right, and on that note, we'll take just a short break. When we come back, we've got callers in Grafton, Ohio, Columbia, Missouri. We'll be taking them and yours when we come back.
REHMAnd a lot of people are reflecting this email from Matthew about last night's debate. He says, I think the public would benefit greatly from real time fact checking, if such a thing were possible. I find myself thinking back to the VH1's pop up music videos, which displayed little facts in text bubbles with the videos played. It bothers me that untruths or outright lies get bandied about so frequently.
LEONHARDTGood news. It exists. The New York Times, where I work, does it. The Washington Post does it. Politico, I thought, did a really good job. NPR did one that got a ton of attention. Politifact. I mean, if you, you know, the Wall Street Journal, really, what I would encourage during these debates, pop open a second screen and look at any, pretty much any place that if you Google fact checking, you'll get a lot of good links.
REHMSo, how much fact checking was done last night? How did that affect what people saw, heard or reacted to, Rebecca?
SINDERBRANDI mean, the answer is a lot of fact checking and the second answer is probably not much at all. If you were watching the debate, you see a very kind of smooth contained Mike Pence. Even if he says something that's inaccurate, he's not necessarily getting called on it, and you feel this is someone who seems assured. This is someone who seems as though he's speaking the truth. He knows what he's talking about. If you're reading on the screen, you may find out that what he's saying is completely inaccurate.
SINDERBRANDBut that's not the feeling you're getting from the viewing that you're seeing. It's not the view that's coming through your television screen. And that's a very different dynamic. The question is when we have all this fact checking, and it's out there, you know, it's one of the frustrations is, you know, when people say, you know, where is this fact checking? I want to see it. It's there. It just doesn't seem to necessarily permeate the consciousness. TV is so overwhelming. The glow just kind of takes over the whole environment.
DINANYou know, the real time fact checking, the email pop up video, it would be an interesting thing. We've actually seen a little bit of that bleeding into television news coverage with some of the banners that the television, the TV cable networks have been doing as the candidates have been speaking. They've actually been doing a little bit of fact checking and I admit, I'm not very happy with that. It -- first of all, because the pop up video sort of style of it -- it happens so quickly, it's so raw and oftentimes, I find as a reporter, I think that they're fact check is wrong.
DINANSo I actually appreciate, you know, all of the ones we were talking about earlier, taking a step back and looking after the debate, two hours after the debate, at a five or six point fact check that goes through everything that was said with a little bit of afterthought.
REHMI appreciated the fact that there was no applause, no reaction from the audience. I would be happier with no audience. I think that, as I have found with reporters, as I did live programs at the museum or at National Geographic. Reporters began to play to the audience. I'm not there for them to play to the audience. And those two were clearly playing to the audience, in the studios as well as to the television audience. How do you feel about it Rebecca?
SINDERBRANDI mean, this is a sentiment you're hearing from a lot of people. You know, as you were saying earlier with, again, the caveat that neither of these two men are people who tend to erupt -- cause strong reactions in people who are listening to them in the first place. So, you wouldn't necessarily have the same sort of passion and fervor that you would have if Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton were on the stage. But yes, it's absolutely two completely different processes.
SINDERBRANDTwo completely different dynamics. Speaking to people in a room is very different than speaking to millions of people at home. The way you approach it, the language that you use, the tone, the movements, the facial expressions. It's a completely different process, and so to try to kind of hobble them together -- it doesn't necessarily have any one of them doing particularly well.
REHMNow does each moderator get to make the rules of that evening's event? Martha Raddatz is about to host the next Presidential debate on Sunday. Who's making the rules as to who gets in, who's in the audience, whether they can applause.
LEONHARDTIt's all highly negotiated. It's run by the Commission on Presidential Debates, and so it's essentially a negotiation between the two campaigns with this commission. The moderators get to choose all of their own questions once the moderators are chosen. But all of the things about amount of time, existence of audience, discouragement of applause. That is a subject of negotiation that is overseen by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
REHMSo, in your view, did Elaine Quijano have an impossible job last night?
DINANYeah, I actually, I sort of question the value of these debates overall. And you mentioned the applause, and that gets at something I've thought about these for a while. Which is that they've become far more of this gladiatorial combat.
DINANWhere we're looking at, oh, who landed a blow? Even the way we talk about it.
DINANAnd write about it.
REHMWho won, who lost.
DINANYeah, got in a good jab, landed a blow, that sort of stuff. Look, the point of these should be to get at issues and let us actually see where the candidates stand and hopefully, in the best of all worlds, find out something new about where they stand. Explore new issues. I don't think we walked away last night knowing a single new thing about either the two top nominees.
REHMGood point, Steve.
DINANFor that matter, in the first debate, we didn't walk away knowing anything new about the positions of these candidates. So, the entire arrangement has become sort of an impossible job. And so, yeah, the moderators have a very difficult job, but, you know, we were talking earlier about that final question that she asked. And I thought it was a very good question. I think more questions that actually get at how people are grappling with the issues that they're facing.
DINANYou know, them, in this case, them personally grappling with it. And then actually, I will answer one other thing that she said that I thought was very interesting. And it stumped Mike Pence was when she asked how a no fly zone would actually look in Syria. And Mike Pence was stumped on that answer. And it's a very good question. How do you actually carry that out and what does it do? Hillary Clinton probably would have had a very good answer to that. I'd love to see Donald Trump answer that and maybe we'll see that in an upcoming debate.
SINDERBRANDI would just say quickly that we are, of course, approaching the one debate where the audience actually does make a difference. A town hall debate. And this is going to be very interesting to see Donald Trump in a one on one debate in a town hall environment. There's a lot going on there, and the audience is a big part of it, how you relate to the crowd, how you relate to the other candidate on stage. It's a very complex process, so it's going to be very interesting to see how he handles that.
LEONHARDTMy biggest complaint about us, in the media, during debates, and it's not just during debates, it's during press conferences too. We place far too much emphasis on looking tough ourselves. It's a kind of performative toughness. We, we, and it's a huge mistake. We too often try to make ourselves look like we're really getting in the face of the candidates and standing up to them. All kinds of moderators do it, as opposed to doing exactly what Stephen was saying.
LEONHARDTWhich is eliciting thoughts from them. And so I thought, as I've said, that Elaine's question at the end was wonderful. I thought her first two questions were really quite weak, where she basically said, look at these polls that people don't like your candidate. That's an example of what I mean. And moderators do it all the time, where they just try to look very tough and prove how tough they are. But the funny thing is is those are actually the least tough questions because candidates know exactly how to respond to the canned tough question from the media.
DINANYou know, just to sort of explore this, I was part of a panel for one of the Republican Presidential debates, and we made, it was at CNN, the final debate, and we made a very conscious decision to go as heavy as possible on substance and we were torn apart afterwards by people who said, well, they didn't argue with each other. We wanted to see them hit each other. So, you know, the audience has been trained to look for this as a gladiatorial combat. And I think it does a disservice from the start to the finish.
REHMToo bad. Too bad. I fully agree. Andre in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.
ANDREGood morning. And it's an honor to speak with you.
ANDREAnd your guests. I have two points. I'm going to be really quick. One of the things that stuck out to me like a sore thumb was when they were speaking about police relations and Pence -- he basically stated that in the North Carolina shooting that there could not be any systemic racism because it was a black cop that shot a black guy. Like, oops. We're -- that's no big deal. Since it was a black guy that killed a black guy, that doesn't mean the system is racist.
ANDREThat stuck out to me, and then the other thing is where, and that plays to his audience that doesn't want to talk about the issue. And then it pivots to when Hillary and Kaine are running from this deplorable situation and what -- it's so easy for them to counter that with, you know, with something as simple as Donald Trump, you said, you know, you have a condolences or whatever when I was sick. But you turn around and say, look at it. It's ridiculous. She can't even walk 15 minutes.
ANDREI mean 15 steps -- 15 feet to her truck or whatever. That is deplorable and a leadership that's fostering a deplorable attitude leads to his followers being deplorable. And deplorable trickling down into the police system and to whatever system that he is fostering will lead to that type of attitude.
REHMThanks, Andre. Rebecca, the last point, the second point first. Trump somehow mimicking Hillary's stumbling as he did a former New York Times reporter.
LEONHARDTMy colleague, Serge Kovaleski.
REHMExactly. In his problem, physical problem. How do you think that played with the audience?
SINDERBRANDWell, of course, we have to think about how many people may have been watching that. That actually came out on a weekend evening, I believe, is when he did that. At the same time, as a New York Times report was landing.
LEONHARDTHe seemed under stress.
SINDERBRANDHe seemed a bit stressed at that point. A New York Times report was landing. This was part of, we put it in the big picture here, just one of the worst weeks, not just of his campaign, but possibly of almost any presidential campaign in the modern era. So whereas, you know, people would absolutely have been focused on this like a laser were that the only thing to have gone wrong last week. I think, you know, with Donald Trump, a lot of this stuff just fades into the background. Because there's just so much to see.
LEONHARDTDiane, can I say something about the caller's...
LEONHARDT...Andre's first point about -- I was really struck, during this debate, about how much, how much times have changed in this country. And obviously, we still suffer from terrible problems of racism. But the fact that Tim Kaine didn't go running last night when Pence made this argument, how could you even talk about this being bias? It was an African American police officer who shot an African American man. The fact that Kaine said look, we need to be able to talk about unconscious bias.
LEONHARDTI don't think we hear that in the 1980s in this country. And it was a reminder to me of how much less white the United States is than it used to be, and how that allows and even forces more honest, more productive conversations about race. Because when we were a country that was 80 percent white, politicians really had to play overwhelmingly, to white people. And now, they need to play to a much more diverse country and deal with many more of the subtleties connected in this. And I thought it was fascinating.
DINANYeah, look, I think that was a -- the caller gets at a very interesting question that also gave us a look at both of the two candidates. And as David just said, you got a very good look at Tim Kaine grappling with this. And you got a look at Mike Pence, well...
REHMPutting it down.
DINAN...capturing what -- yeah. Well, but also capturing what a lot of voters do think. You know, and this is -- I don't think that that question's going to make a lot of voters switch their minds, but it certainly solidified if you were -- if you approach this from Mike Pence's point of view, you saw a guy who's expressing what you thought and sort of your frustration with the other side. And vice versa for Tim Kaine.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Caller in Riverhead, New York. John, you're on the air.
JOHNHi, good morning. Thanks for the opportunity.
JOHNI was struck, I mean, this was a very different Tim Kaine than everyone knows and had expected. And I wonder if your experts think that the Clinton campaign had tasked him to follow this kind of mode. And if that was the case, whether they really made a mistake, because had the debate focused a lot on his biography and his own feelings about things than what was just being talked about in terms of the race issue or his comments at the end would have been much more characteristic.
JOHNAnd it would have created a much more appealing figure to solve Hillary's problem of appealing to millennials and independents.
SINDERBRANDI mean, you know, this has been partially Tim Kaine's role throughout the campaign season has been the attack dog role. So what you saw last night was basically an amplification of what he's been doing on the trail all along. You know, the issue, of course, is that Donald Trump was not there. It was not Donald Trump that he was bouncing these attacks off of. So whereas if he's doing it on the trail, and there's no one there, you know, you have one dynamic.
SINDERBRANDIf he's doing it and Donald Trump were there, it's another dynamic. If he's doing it and there's just a person there who is not Donald Trump who's able to say, hey, you know, you're not talking about me here. It just doesn't work.
LEONHARDTI don't think they regret the focus on Trump, the Clinton campaign. I think if they had to do it again, they would dial back the interrupting. Biden in the Vice Presidential debate four years ago interrupted Paul Ryan a lot, and it was seen as effective. It was seen as essentially calling Ryan on things he was saying that weren't true or didn't make sense. For some reason, Biden was able to pull that off and Kaine didn't quite pull it off last night. And so, my instinct is that they regret the interrupting.
LEONHARDTIf they had to do it again, they would dial back on that. But I'm -- I think they're very happy with the focus on Trump. That's what they want people thinking about.
DINANYeah, I agree with that. Look, this is not a natural fit role for Tim Kaine. He doesn't make a very good attack dog. He's made a valiant effort at it, but I think the issue with Tim Kaine, if you'd had more of a focus on Tim Kaine, you would have had to have delved into a lot more of the differences between Tim Kaine, personally, and his positions he's taken. And where Hillary Clinton is at this point in the campaign. Look, one of the most interesting things about the campaign is that you have a -- probably the most liberal nominee that we've ever had.
DINANAnd Tim Kaine is not as liberal as the positions Hillary Clinton is taking right now. If you'd gotten into that, you would have seen a very interesting discussion about how he gets to that point. The same is of course also true on the Republican side, but reversed. You have a very conservative Vice Presidential nominee, not as conservative a Republican top nominee.
DINANAnd you got a little bit of the exploration of that.
REHMAll right, last word is from an email from Paul, who says, the word politics alone makes me squirm in my seat. And now I can add the word debate to that list. Throughout this entire presidential campaign, every time there's been a debate, it appears to me that it's more like a contest of insults than an organized discussion of how best to move forward. This leaves me wondering should I even pay attention at all. And it seems to me, Diane Rehm, that perhaps the Debate Commission needs to take another look at exactly how these debates are put forward.
REHMSo that we as voters do really begin to understand who and what these men and women are and stand for. That's my own view.
REHMThank you all so much. David Leonhardt, the New York Times, Rebecca Sinderbrand, the Washington Post, and Stephen Dinan of the Washington Times. I'll be out for the next two days on a station visit to WYPR in Baltimore. I'll be back with you on Monday. Have a great weekend, everybody. I'm Diane Rehm.
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