This election cycle has set the low, low bar of “least unlikable,” so we hopefully crossed our fingers for the vice presidential debate. Instead of rhetoric, insult and scandal, we wanted a knock-down, drag out policy fight — the stripped down version of what 2016 should’ve been.

And that’s (almost) what we got. In a debate where both VP candidates needed to be the likeable, smooth, unflappable option to their unlikeable running mate, to be the perfect ying to the presidential yang, only one candidate rose to the occasion.

Here’s the breakdown of why conservatives could once again cheer instead of retreat. In the span of 90 minutes, Mike Pence rose above and reminded us that prepared and composed beats rehearsed and erratic.

Tim Kaine: Rehearsed

He interrupted, he fumbled with Hillary Clinton’s record on foreign policy (including Russia and the reset), and his left eyebrow just wouldn’t quit. If the simple goal was to be likeable, Tim Kaine failed. He didn’t offer a steadfast, watered down complement to the untrustworthy brand of Clinton. Instead of touting his own record, Kaine doubled down on hers.

But it wasn’t just the substance of what Kaine said, it was also his delivery. Kaine failed to be relatable and authentic — his too-rehearsed lines betrayed him, which Pence called out numerous times; he was calculated (a little too reminiscent of Clinton); and his talking points failed to capture what Americans believe – that terrorism is not on the decline.

In the end, when Kaine needed to show the authentic side of the Democratic ticket, he failed in both what he said and how he delivered what he said. Kaine needed to be real. Kaine needed to be the anti-Clinton. Instead, Kaine became another victim of the Clinton machine.

Mike Pence: Prepared

When we needed an alternative to the unlikeable, Pence showed up.

WATCH: RNC releases supercut of Kaine's debate interruptions

Also from the Washington Examiner

The RNC counted 72 times when Kaine interrupted Pence throughout the 90-minute debate.

10/05/16 9:58 AM

Though his start was slow, pale, and a little too heavy on the makeup, he offered a stark contrast to Kaine’s constant interruptions. Pence waited for his time to shine, which came at the halfway point. He modified and projected his voice, and really stood out when he started discussing foreign policy – he was unflappable and calm, but determined.

Pence, most of all, defended conservativism instead of answering for Trump – he even summoned the oft-quoted (and ever-present) Ronald Reagan: “There you go again.” Pence reminded voters that a real conservative is actually in this election — one last pitch to the skeptics in need of someone to vote for on Nov. 8. His last answer was most telling. Focusing on the heartbeat of conservativism – the issue of life. An issue that Trump has flipped on, but one that has defined a voting bloc.

Third Parties

Beyond the candidates, the debate moderators have created their own narrative. Instead of acting as a go-between to keep the time and hold each candidate to account, both Lester Holt and Elaine Quijano have failed. Last night, Quijano lost control of the debate and interjected where she shouldn’t have, effectively shutting down the closest thing we’ve had to a robust policy debate.

If the presidential debates are supposed to help us determine who is the least unlikable (at least this year), the goal of the VP debate is different. Pence and Kaine are serving as complements, and so we evaluate them with this role in mind. Pence needed to soften the bombastic delivery of Trump while Kaine needed to add a different dimension.

Clinton ad: Pence had a 'hard time' defending Trump

Also from the Washington Examiner

The ad closes with text that reads, “It’s okay, Mike. We’d have a hard time defending him, too.”

10/05/16 9:49 AM

The result? Kaine, in tone and visuals, doubled down on the Clinton brand of prepared and stiff. Pence? Showed up as relaxed, prepared, and likeable.

Perhaps in the end, those in the #NeverTrump camp can finally agree that the GOP nominee for president made one good decision.

Beverly Hallberg is president of District Media Group. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.

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