How do you watch tonight’s vice-presidential debate? I have no idea, because I have no intention of watching it. And neither should you. The vice-presidential debate will be even more inconsequential than usual this year for four reasons.
1. The VP candidates won’t offer any surprises.
Mike Pence and Tim Kaine are sober, serious, experienced mainstream politicians who have undoubtedly spent a lot of time carefully preparing for this debate. Which means that they will be careful to do nothing that would tip the balance of the campaign, even if they had the power to do so.
They will likely have a serious and substantive discussion of the issues, will go through some uncomfortable contortions as they run interference for their running mates’ positions, and won’t make any serious gaffes. They will stick to being serious, totally acceptable to voters—and boring.
2. Gaffes don’t matter this year.
And what if one of the vice-presidential candidates makes a gaffe? Do you really think there is any such thing in 2016?
This is the Year Without a Gaffe. It’s not that politician haven’t said anything stupid or outrageous. It’s that they say these things all the time and it makes no difference. While third-party candidates like Gary Johnson might seem to be the exception—he got some heat for comments on religious freedom and a carbon tax—even then, it really had no impact on his candidacy. He was precisely as doomed after those gaffes as he was before them.
Thank Donald Trump for this lovely innovation. He showed us that if you speak offensive nonsense all the time, as a matter of compulsive habit, eventually it stops being news and has no impact. If everything is a gaffe, nothing is.
3. Ordinary politics are irrelevant to cults of personality.
If the VP candidates are their normal, sober, serious selves, then they will emerge from their debate pretty evenly matched. Which means they will cancel each other out.
This is the year in which this kind of ordinary politician is irrelevant compared to the two big, raging cults of personality behind the people at the top of the ticket. Donald Trump famously declared that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still love him, and they have pretty much said, “Yeah, sure.” They change their policies and principles—on gun control, eminent domain, Vladimir Putin, you name it—to be able to continue to support their man. As for Hillary Clinton, just as a generation of people on the right have been trained to revile her, a generation of rank-and-file Democrats have been trained to defend her and view her as the personal embodiment of progress for women.
It may seem cruelly incomprehensible, but a lot of people are deeply emotionally committed to these two major candidates and are willing to sacrifice mental and moral clarity for their sake. Nobody has ever been similarly excited about Tim Kaine or Mike Pence.
4. Nobody else is going to care.
Yes, with both of the presidential nominees in the neighborhood of 70 years old, the eventual vice-president has a higher-than-usual chance of being abruptly promoted to the Oval Office. But this will happen, in exactly the way it’s going to happen, whether you watch tonight’s debate or not.
Most voters are not paying attention to the vice-presidential candidates, nor will that influence their vote. So while you might have good reason to think that one of these men would be a much better emergency replacement president should the person at the top of the ticket die, become incapacitated, or get impeached, your judgment on that matter will have no impact on the outcome.
And if 2016 has taught us nothing else, it’s that there’s nothing more annoying than knowing that there is a clear and distinct path that’s best for the country, and watching everybody else ignore it.
So kick back, drink an adult beverage of your choice—I’m pretty sure you need it—watch a movie, read a book, do something productive with your life. Which doesn’t include watching an irrelevant debate.
This election year has already taken enough from you, and you don’t owe it any more.