Every year, from 1999 through 2005, the world watched cyclist Lance Armstrong win the Tour de France. But if you check the record now, you will find no winner listed for those years, each of which is simply marked with an asterisk. In 2012, Armstrong was stripped of his titles for using performance enhancing drugs. It took six years for cycling fans to learn Armstrong hadn’t won those races after all.
Compared to the Lance Armstrong story, I suppose the debates we are witnessing this election season are an improvement. We don’t have to wait six years to find out who won. But we do have to wait a day or two, because it takes that long for the researchers to determine who was telling the truth. We rightly feel you can’t win a debate with lies, just as we feel you can’t win a bicycle race by doping.
In the vice presidential debate that took place Tuesday evening, one competitor was clearly more professional than the other. Donald Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, was calmer and more confident than his opponent, Tim Kaine. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza summarized their performances:
Pence was the more comfortable of the two men on the debate stage. Pence repeatedly turned to the camera when he answered questions, making clear he understood that the real audience wasn’t in the room but watching on TV. The Indiana governor was calm, cool and collected throughout — a stark contrast to the fast-talking (and seemingly nervous) Kaine.
Kaine frequently interrupted Pence and tried to talk over him. Pence’s demeanor was professional, while Kaine’s was almost pugilistic.
The debate followed a fairly simple format. The moderator would ask a question, then by way of answering, Kaine would attack Donald Trump, then Pence would respond by attacking Hillary Clinton. Time and again, the moderator vainly tried to refocus the candidates’ remarks on her question. But both candidates did a good job of covering their talking points, regardless of the questions.
Pence gave the better performance, but did he win? Eight times he denied that Donald Trump had said things that are nevertheless on the record, on subjects ranging from Trump’s tax returns to whether women should be punished for undergoing abortions or the U.S. should withdraw from NATO. It seems that, since so many of Donald Trump’s positions are indefensible, Pence simply substituted denial for defense.
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The New York Times, which assigned reporters to fact-check both candidates, caught Kaine in one misrepresentation: that the Bush tax cuts caused the Great Recession. But the reporters caught Pence in three: the proportion of funds the Clinton Foundation spends on charitable work, Clinton’s immigration policies, and whether Trump’s tax plan would lower taxes on working families. There were also a number of statements that weren’t outright misrepresentations but were just misleading. The reporters caught Pence in six of these, against Kaine’s three.
Pence was the more “professional” of the two candidates in this debate. But he was also much more dishonest than Kaine. Can we say Pence won the debate? Can we say Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France from 1999 through 2006? My take on who won the vice presidential debate: *.