The VP debate has just ended, marked as it was by Pence's calm but disingenuous refusal to acknowledge Trump’s offensive language or highly heterodox policy positions. Early punditry is awarding Pence a points victory on the basis of his rhetorical style and debating prowess, but foretelling a Kaine success story in the longer (i.e. 24-48 hours) term as media fact checking and endless looping of sound bites work to confirm the narrative the latter’s talking heads have predicted. In short, this debate only served to further underline the futility of these debates as anything other than spectacle.
Nevertheless, Pence’s performance is also being seen as pointing to the GOP’s post-Trump future, sketching a way forward for the party after the 2016 fever dream of proto-fascism. But, if that is the case, then the GOP’s future doesn’t appear very different from the present. In truth Pence represents nothing more than a mirror image of Trump’s angry nativism. Calmer, perhaps more dignified, and certainly less threatening to Washington’s elites, Pence is nonetheless as much a personification of the presumption of white masculine power as Trump is. In rejecting discussion of implicit bias, denying women the capacity to control their own reproductive power, assuming “strength” as the only palatable response to all foreign policy questions, and offering only walls in response to transnational human crises, Pence eschews only Trump’s visible anger. Moreover, just like Trump, Pence sees only rudeness, disrespect, and moral failing in those – like Kaine – who seek to challenge his assumed monopoly of authority. If Pence is the GOP’s future, it marks not the passing of Trumpism but its regularization.