Moderation: Pence managed to win a three-person debate, eh?

If you missed last night’s debate, the RNC has a 271-second distillation of it. For most viewers, the biggest impression of the event came from Tim Kaine’s constant interruptions and interjections. The RNC counted 72 of them, but it felt like a lot more when watching the debate live.


Is this the fault of the moderator, CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano? Perhaps not, but that doesn’t mean she’s off the hook either. Let me put it this

… oh, sorry, the video interrupted me. At any rate, short of being able to yank Kaine’s microphone off his lapel, she had few options to stop Kaine from running his mouth the entire debate. That’s the fault of Kaine, not Quijano.

However, her moderation left plenty to be desired in other ways. Quijano moved through topics with no coherent or discernible pattern. She went from presidential leadership to economic plans, then to Social Security, law enforcement and race relations, then immigration, terrorism, Syria, Syria again, Russia, North Korea, and then back to “social issues.” What was law enforcement and race relations? Quijano asked repeated questions about Trump’s taxes, but when the subject of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail came up after Kaine brought up cybersecurity in connection to terrorism, this was what happened:

QUIJANO: All right. I’d like to turn now to the tragedy in Syria. Two hundred fifty thousand…

PENCE: Can I speak about the cybersecurity surge at all?

QUIJANO: You can — you can have 30 seconds, Governor, quickly, please.

PENCE: First, Donald Trump just spoke about this issue this week. We have got to bring together the best resources of this country to understand that cyber warfare is the new warfare of the asymmetrical enemies that we face in this country. And I look forward if I’m privileged to be in this role of working with you in the Senate to make sure that we resource that effort.

KAINE: We will work together in whatever roles we inhabit.

PENCE: We have an intelligence, sir (ph). But I will also tell you that it’s important in this moment to remember that Hillary Clinton had a private server in her home that had classified information on it…

QUIJANO: And I don’t — 30 seconds is on up.

PENCE: … about drone strikes, e-mails from the president of the United States of America were on there.


PENCE: Her private server was subject to being hacked by foreign…


QUIJANO: I’d like to ask you about Syria, Governor.

PENCE: We could put cybersecurity first if we just make sure the next secretary of state doesn’t have a private server.


KAINE: And all investigation concluded that not one reasonable prosecutor would take any additional step. You don’t get to decide the rights and wrongs of this. We have a justice system that does that. And a Republican FBI director did an investigation and concluded that…

(CROSSTALK) QUIJANO: All right, we are moving on now.


Quijano encouraged a fairly lengthy discussion of Trump’s taxes — not just opening the topic herself, but then challenging Pence with a follow-up. Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server directly relates to her record in office as Secretary of State and to the cybersecurity question, unlike the issue of Trump’s tax returns as a private citizen, and yet Quijano couldn’t change the subject fast enough once it came up — and never bothered to ask about it in the first place. Why?

Then there was the question of Quijano’s follow-up challenges. By my count, Quijano asked Kaine four follow-ups that probed his previous answer, while she challenged Pence eight times. Three of those came on a question about Senator Tim Scott on race relations. That topic required three follow-ups, but Quijano could barely give Pence 30 seconds to talk about Hillary’s track record on cybersecurity and the handling of classified information while serving as Secretary of State.

Chris Cillizza, who normally spends his time defending moderators, couldn’t bring himself to come to Quijano’s defense last night:

I root for the moderators in these debates because they have a next-to-impossible job. But Quijano lost control of the debate within minutes of it starting and never really got it back. She seemed to dole out 20 seconds here and 30 seconds there for Pence or Kaine or both to respond to each other with no rhyme or reason. She never was able to get Kaine or Pence to, well, stop talking. Then there was the fact that she didn’t seem to follow the flow of the debate; Kaine and Pence would be feuding about, say, tax returns, and Quijano, after getting the two men to stop talking, would say something like, “Let’s talk about North Korea.”


Quijano had a bad night, but it’s not because Kaine walked all over her. It’s because for the second straight debate, the Republican got a lot more critical scrutiny than did the Democrat, plus the moderator didn’t have any sense of coherent topic organization — and didn’t keep up with the conversation.

Final thought: Kaine pretty much blew this attack line by stepping all over Quijano, right? Or is this something the media will revive regardless of the hypocrisy? If you’re putting money down on this, bet on the media hypocrisy.


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