VP Debate: Tim Kaine Puts Mike Pence on the Defensive as Candidates Take On Issues, and Each Other
7:42 p.m. PDT:
And now, our final installment of expert commentary from Bill Boyarsky:
“Gov. Pence, Sen. Kaine, please,” moderator Elaine Quijano said, trying to stop the two combatants from interrupting each other. She tamed them a bit, and finally they began speaking in complete sentences, explaining their ideas.
It was interesting and enlightening when Pence referred to Putin as “the bully … leader,” using the term “bully” as an insult and not as a compliment, as Teddy Roosevelt once did. He blamed President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for giving Russia the green light to expand, alleging that their “weak and feckless policy “awoke the Russian bear.”
Kaine noted Trump’s praise of Putin as a strong leader, wondered if he had business ties with Russia, and asked, “Is it going to be America’s bottom line or President Trump’s bottom line?” But it was hard to bring their sparring down to a specific policy, such as what to do about Syria.
Then the moderator settled the two warriors down by asking about their faith and belief in God. Pence reiterated his opposition to abortion and said that Kaine backs partial-birth abortion. Kaine said he supported Roe v. Wade, while “Gov. Pence wants to repeal Roe v. Wade.”
He said Trump-Pence want to punish women who have abortions, which Pence denied. “Why did he say that?” Kaine asked. The answer: Pence said Trump is not a polished politician.
The back-and-forth made it hard to understand where these two men were headed. Trump must have been upset at two points: first, that Pence speaks clearly, in complete sentences, and second, that Pence criticized Trump’s pal Putin.
For his part, Kaine was a scrapper, a bit hyper at the beginning before settling down.
A crucial point was raised at the beginning by moderator Elaine Quijano: What would you do if you became president, how would you conduct yourself? There were too many interruptions for anyone to make a judgment. Important questions remained unanswered.
7:32 p.m. PDT: Talk turned to religious faith and personal beliefs in the last stretch of the first and only vice-presidential debate. And as expected, Pence put out a call to a certain demographic of religious Americans by invoking the issue of abortion. More specifically, he wondered aloud how Clinton and Kaine could “support a practice like partial-birth abortion.”
Again, Kaine was ready with a well-rehearsed rejoinder. “We don’t think women should be punished, as Donald Trump said, for making the decision to have an abortion,” he said, referencing the sanctity of another American document: The Supreme Court’s historical Roe v. Wade decision.
Kaine wouldn’t let his claim drop about Donald Trump saying he would “punish women who would make reproductive choices,” which yielded another denial from Pence. “Donald Trump and I would never support legislation to punish women who made the heartbreaking choice to terminate a pregnancy,” he said. (In fact, Trump did float that idea before recanting it later.)
“Look, he’s not a polished politician,” Pence said of Trump.
Kaine continued with his character assault on Trump. “From the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks,” Kaine said, quoting the New Testament (that would be Luke 6:45). “When Donald Trump said women should be punished, or Mexicans are rapists and criminals, or [Sen.] John McCain’s not a hero, he’s showing you who he is.”
Of Trump’s infamous comments about Mexicans, Pence interjected, “He also said, ‘and many of them are good people’ — you keep leaving that out.”
As the debate concluded, Pence had spent much of his time cutting a defensive, if dignified, profile, while Kaine came off as less polished but more confident that he had picked a winner in agreeing to run alongside Clinton. Pence played a more rational-seeming, diplomatic foil to the brash and bombastic Trump, while Kaine continued along Clinton’s line of attack against the Republican presidential nominee.
Thanks for joining our live blog — we’ll post Boyarsky’s concluding words above this entry and will look forward to tuning in, with our readers and comment community, to the upcoming second presidential debate on Sunday. Stay tuned here on Truthdig.
7:22 p.m. PDT: As the debate concluded its first hour, Quijano momentarily lost control of the exchange as both candidates made rapid-fire accusations and talked over each other and frequently favored attacking their opponent’s running mate over answering questions about how they and their own partner in the 2016 presidential sweepstakes would deal with pressing problems.
When faced with the prospect of talking about Syria, Pence launched into a discussion of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. Quijano repeatedly reminded Pence of the original question.
Kaine spotted an opening in Pence’s answer on what to do about the international refugee crisis stemming from the war in Syria and other arenas of conflict. Kaine cast his and Clinton’s plan to vet refugees as supportive and unbiased compared to Trump’s proposed blockade. “We won’t do it based on the country you come from or the religion you are,” Kaine said. Pence replied, again using potentially risky language, “We can’t know who these people are coming from Syria.”
In his defense of statements he and Trump had made about Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pence cast Trump as a “strong leader” capable of protecting his country via a safety-through-strength leadership style. As for Russia, Pence said, “provocations by Russia need to be met by American strength.”
Kaine baldly called Putin a dictator and taunted his challenger: “If you don’t know the difference between dictatorship and leadership, then you have to go back to a fifth-grade civics class,” he said. In singing the praises of the Clinton Foundation, Kaine turned the tables on Donald Trump’s own foundation for supporting Russian interests and making illegal donations on the domestic level.
Pence dug himself a hole by denying outright that he called Putin “a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country,” quibbling with the wording. Here’s a link to that particular quote.
7:04 p.m. PDT: Dispatch No. 2 from Boyarsky:
Their discussion about police killings was unsatisfying to those who care about the issue and have been following its complexities.
Kaine invoked his years as a councilman, mayor and governor for reforming police and came down hard in favor of community policing, which is a common-sense way for cops to deal with poor people as individuals, and not act as an occupying army.
Pence said he agreed. “Community policing is a great idea,” he said. They then they fell back on anecdotes and examples—and with a rather arcane dispute over whether police should be accused of bias. It was a semantic dispute and one that shed no light or offered any solutions to such a great national problem.
6:51 p.m. PDT: As Kaine hammered on Trump’s comments about Mexicans being “rapists,” and women being “slobs, pigs, dogs, disgusting,” Pence responded with a familiar Trump tactic of accusing his opponent of the same offense leveled at him. A calm and collected Pence suggested that Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment was far worse than all of Trump’s supposed insults combined.
Sticking with his strategy of forcing Pence to answer for Trump’s most controversial comments and positions, Kaine hit on immigration and border security. “I cannot believe that Gov. Pence would sit here and defend” Trump’s talk of building walls and deporting immigrants, reminding the audience of Trump’s fighting words in the process.
“Donald Trump has said we’re going to move those people out who have overstayed their visas,” Pence answered, insisting that these plans would fall within the bounds of the law. Showing he wasn’t above throwing out an incendiary comment himself, Pence flexed a bit by insinuating he’d be willing to work with Kaine when Kaine returned to his position as a Virginia senator after Nov. 8
“I look forward to working together in whatever capacities we serve in,” Kaine retorted, refusing to pull hypothetical rank.
Other hot-button topics from the second half-hour included the issue of police violence and institutional racism. “Police officers are the best of us,” Pence said in making a risky move — being a white man telling those who agree with Kaine about institutional race-based prejudices existing in the American police force and other corners of society that talk of “broad bias or institutional racism … has got to stop.”
“Enough of this seeking to demean law enforcement,” Pence added. In his response, Kaine name-checked Philando Castile, an African-American who died at the hands of a police officer, and declared, “People shouldn’t be afraid to bring up issues of implicit bias in law enforcement.”
6:39 p.m. PDT: This update just came in from Truthdig columnist and veteran political journalist Bill Boyarksy:
Sen. Tim Kaine pursued an aggressive, if high-risk, strategy of aggressively going after Gov. Mike Pence in the opening minutes. He took a bland question of why he is fit to be president by first praising Hillary Clinton and then blasting Donald Trump, noting that Trump told a lie when he said Obama was not born in the U.S. He interrupted Pence, which was either smart or rude, putting the well-mannered Pence on the defensive.
Trump’s tax play “is a Trump-first plan,” Kaine said. Pence said the Democratic ticket offers “more taxes” and “more people living in poverty.” Moderator Elaine Quijano asked about not paying taxes. Pence gave the Trump line, and Kaine kept interrupting him.
This interruption approach is putting Pence on defense. Moderator asked them to quit speaking over each other. Doesn’t seem likely, given the Kaine game plan.
6:36 p.m. PDT: There go the niceties. Kaine went on the attack first, taking advantage of the debate format — which he reminded Quijano, Pence and viewers was more of a discussion than a timed exercise in delivering uninterrupted monologues. And Kaine interrupted Pence plenty, putting the Indiana governor on the defensive while putting Quijano to work in preventing either candidate from steamrollering the other.
Topics of contention included: Trump’s ballyhooed tax returns; his relationship with Russia; Hillary Clinton’s transactions with the Clinton Foundation; what Pence called Clinton and Kaine’s “insult-driven campaign”; Clinton’s alleged failure to “renegotiate a status of forces agreement” in the draw-down from the Iraq War and the subsequent (and related, according to accuser Pence) rise of Islamic State; how to tackle the national debt and give the domestic economy a jolt.
On many points, instead of answering questions about Trump, Pence attacked Clinton. And Kaine returned the favor. “You guys love Russia,” the Virginia senator, who Pence pointed out was on home turf for their debate, said to Pence.
On the subject of the economy, Kaine played upon Trump’s reality-show past by posing this question: “Do you want a ‘You’re hired’ president in Hillary Clinton, or do you want a ‘You’re fired’ plan from a President Trump?” Getting into more detail, Kaine touched upon specific elements of Clinton’s economic platform, including “equal pay for equal work,” safeguards to ensure that “you can’t work full time [and remain] under the poverty level,” and “tax relief for middle-class individuals and small businesses.”
Pence showed up ready to speak to the controversy over Trump’s 1995 tax returns, telling the story in terms of Trump’s outsider appeal: He’s a businessman, not a politician, said the GOP vice presidential candidate. “He faced some pretty tough times 20 years ago.”
6:18 p.m. PDT: Right out of the gates, moderator Elaine Quijano poses a question about what would qualify both candidates to lead should they become president.
Sen. Kaine began with a hat-tip to his running mate, “strong, history-making woman” Hillary Clinton, lest anyone think he was harboring designs on the Oval Office desk chair. Also, no doubt, to give the impression that Clinton would serve a full term as president. “It’s going to be about results,” Kaine said of his and Clinton’s combined leadership style.
As for his own credentials, Kaine cleverly put praise for himself in Clinton’s mouth by mentioning that she had lauded his background as a civil rights lawyer, mayor and senator. Then he turned to the topic of their joint opponent: “The thought of Donald Trump as commander in chief scares us to death.”
He’s clearly with her.
Like his Democratic counterpart, Gov. Mike Pence played it humble in his opening remarks, while foregrounding Donald Trump as the boss of his current posting.
He also trotted out some boilerplate Trump-campaign talking points. “We’ve seen America’s place in the world weakened, an economy stifled by more taxes, more regulation … failing health care reform,” Pence said.
Then came the getting-to-know-you pitch, “I’m a small-town boy from a place not too far from Farmville,” Pence said, making a down-home appeal to the audience.
* * *
In the eyes of many dissatisfied voters, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Virginia U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine have at least one good thing going for them as politicians: They’re not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
Still, the Republican and the Democrat, respectively, have hitched their wagons, and thus their fates, to those of their parties’ presidential nominees in being their running mates for the White House. For Pence and Kaine, Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., will be a tricky balancing act in which they must sell themselves on their own merits while never losing sight of the need to prop up and promote the man and the woman getting top billing on their tickets.
That’s not exactly new when it comes to the job description. But as Politico’s Glenn Thrush noted, Pence and Kaine both have to face some age-related considerations that may influence how they and their presidential partners are viewed in Election 2016:
In years past, veep debates have actually been consequential, substantive and entertaining: Sarah Palin was the biggest draw ever, and she acquitted pretty well against a smug Joe Biden; Dan Quayle guffawed when Lloyd Bentsen compared him unfavorably to JFK; Geraldine Ferraro bristled when George H. W. Bush (not exactly a Trump-style meanie) suggested she didn’t know much about history or geography.
Who knows what to expect from Pence-Kaine, and who cares? As one of my POLITICO colleagues said earlier this week, “Both of these guys could set themselves on fire and nobody would notice.”
So sure, laugh it up. But the reality is that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are old people, and (if their respective opponents are to be believed) uncommonly vulnerable to impeachment, imprisonment or a health calamity so dire that either one of these parochial-middle-school-principal-looking dudes could end up leader of the free world.
Given these chronological considerations, it could be that Americans watching this debate, moderated by CBS News’ Elaine Quijano, will be paying closer attention to the aspiring vice presidents’ backgrounds and stated positions.
Quijano’s presence in the mix is also noteworthy, since discussions about race and gender have played a considerable role in news coverage and campaign-trail commentary from Trump and Clinton themselves. Quijano, as CNNMoney’s Dylan Byers pointed out on debate day, is “the first Asian-American journalist ever to moderate a national debate, and the youngest in 28 years.”
That said, The New York Times’ Alexander Burns brought a slightly different perspective to his pre-debate take, suggesting, in short, that Pence and Kaine cannot and will not (and perhaps should not) get out of Trump’s and Clinton’s shadows:
Pence and Kaine will not be the main focus at their own debate.
Do not let their physical presence onstage fool you: These two men may serve more as stand-ins for their running mates than as combatants in their own right.
In a conventional race, the vice-presidential candidates might engage in a thorough discussion of each other’s records. But in a campaign defined by two larger-than-life presidential nominees, Mr. Kaine and Mr. Pence are more likely to punch upward, with Mr. Kaine prosecuting the case against Mr. Trump’s temperament and character, and Mr. Pence pressing the message that Mrs. Clinton cannot change Washington the way Mr. Trump can.
Adding to the potential need to keep their minds on their superiors: professional polls like this one indicating that Clinton is pulling far ahead of Trump in the final runup to Nov. 8.
For his part, Mike Pence has one big backer on his side as he prepares for his national close-up:
I will be watching the great Governor @Mike_Pence and live tweeting the VP debate tonight starting at 8:30pm est! Enjoy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 4, 2016
Still, even some of the commenting class paid to cover Tuesday’s event aren’t exactly expecting an October surprise:
“Thrilla in Vanilla” is a slogan I came up with for the VP debate.
— Farhad Manjoo (@fmanjoo) October 4, 2016
Not sure how to catch the debate? Here’s a guide from Fortune.
Meanwhile, we’ll be live blogging the proceedings on this story page. See you in a few.
–Posted by Kasia Anderson
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