Why the Kaine Loss? He Borrowed From Trump, Not His Boss

October 5, 2016

So much for a Clinton-Kaine runaway.

That’s what Republicans are saying and Democrats are thinking about last night’s one-and-only VP debate. It was Virginia Senator Tim Kaine’s to lose…and he did. Saddled as he was by Donald Trump’s litany of gaffes, Indiana Governor Mike Pence shone through as a steady salvation and redeemable half of his GOP ticket.

pence-jam-with-defYou might think that Clinton’s avuncular running mate was just following orders: Bait the rival. This was of course central to Hillary’s winning formula in her first debate demolition of The Donald.

But what Kaine or his advisors missed was the other crucial half of the strategy: Bait…then wait. Or as we playmakers put it, pair the strategy of teasing with the strategy of pausing. Indeed, Hillary laid traps for the gullible Trump and let the clock tick. Give Trump time and he’ll spring them himself, she gambled. It worked so well that her SNL impersonator, Kate McKinnon, would cry in the late night show cold opener, “I’m sorry, Lester, this is going so well.”

But Pence is a more studied and wary competitor and Kaine lacks his running mate’s cool. Instead of lacing taunts into his answers Hillary-style, Kaine thought to interrupt his opponent Trump-style and lobby an ineffectual moderator for fair play. By design or by mistake, the senator’s go-to strategy was the high-risk jam, the same freezing play so disastrously employed by Trump in his first face-off with Hillary.

Adding Tim Kaine’s interruptions to the optics of his water-sipping and a left-side split-screen position (the same side as Trump), the VP hopeful immediately presented as the more paranoid of the pair.

It was a reversal of roles, parties and plays. Whereas Kaine appeared to borrow from Trump’s playbook, Pence borrowed from Hillary’s. By way of his own pause plays, he shook off Kaine’s interjections and, as necessary, ran deflects and recasting plays to protect his considerable disadvantage.

This debate yields two lessons for influence strategists:

  1. Don’t jam an experienced playmaker. They’ll ignore your point and paint you as pleading and unprepared. Save your rebuttal for the time you’re given, especially if your opponent is saddled with so many imperfect arguments.
  2. If the game is to bait, you also have to wait. Think of it more as hunting than wrestling. There’s time for your prey to spring your trap.

What could have been an inconsequential debate of two inconsequential politicos resulted in the showcasing of a 2020 GOP candidate and the political suicide of a Truman-style up-and-comer. Thanks to the misread, it’s game on, again.


Post by Alan Kelly

Graphics courtesy of Playmaker Systems, LLC