FARMVILLE, Virginia — Advisers and surrogates for both vice presidential candidates came to a rare bipartisan consensus in the spin room here Tuesday night: The debate that just took place was incredibly unpleasant to watch.
Widely expected to be a snoozy and forgettable affair, the face-off between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence took on a surprisingly peevish tone almost immediately, and stayed that way for 90 grueling minutes.
Kaine interrupted his opponent constantly, letting loose a rat-a-tat of real-time fact-checks, pre-fab zingers, and outraged recitations of Donald Trump's sins. Pence spent much of the evening shaking his head, rolling his eyes, and mocking Kaine for his scripted one-liners. Frequently, the two men ended up talking over each other for extended periods of time while moderator Elaine Quijano pleaded, "Gentlemen, please." According to a post-debate transcript, the debate devolved into indecipherable "crosstalk" 32 times.
The overall effect for viewers was more grating than inspiring.
Given the astronomical "unfavorable" ratings possessed by both Trump and Hillary Clinton, some had predicted that the vice presidential debate would offer a welcome reprieve to an electorate desperate for candidates they actually like. Both Pence and Kaine have been presented in the media as affable, polite, and mild-mannered.
But apparently the Clinton campaign made a calculation that Kaine should ditch the dorky dad persona he's honed on the campaign trail, and instead play the part of the pit bull prosecutor.
In the spin room after the debate, neither campaign bothered trying to argue that America had just witnessed a stirring, high-toned contest of ideas. Rather, they all unanimously acknowledged the repellant nature of the performance — and then blamed the other side.
"It's one thing to be an attack dog, it's another to be a little yappy dog that just won't stop," said Matt Schlapp, a Trump surrogate and chairman of the American Conservative Union, of Kaine's performance. "I think there were too many times where they were talking at the same time, and that's unfortunate for people who were trying to listen, like me."
Schlapp added, "I think when [voters] see all the interruptions it just turns them off, because they think politics is just a lot of posturing."
Arizona congressman Ruben Gallego, a Democrat and Clinton supporter, said Kaine's interruptions were necessary because he was challenging Pence to defend his running-mate's record. While Gallego said Kaine succeeded in this mission, he acknowledged it likely wasn't a treat for the viewers at home.
"I think voters get turned off by almost everything in politics," he said."
Senior Clinton adviser Karen Finney argued that Pence's behavior in the debate — "the scowling, the shaking his head, the trying to laugh it off" — contributed to the contentious dynamic. Meanwhile, Trump adviser Sarah Huckabee Sanders placed the fault firmly with Kaine "because he was the primary interruptor, and I don't think it wore well."
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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