The two seasoned warriors came out tonight to mix it up. Both showed they were ready to serve as either President or Vice-President. Tim Kaine has served in government at “all levels” and Mike Pence has successfully governed his state. Their philosophical differences were clear and Americans have a choice. Kaine came right out punching and interrupting while Pence refused to take the bait and tried to stay on message – the genuine differences between the two major candidates.
Kaine won on substance. He pushed Pence to defend many of the indefensible statements and actions of Donald Trump. Trump has insulted Mexicans, war heroes, generals, Muslims, women and more. Pence avoided any defense of any of these while pushing back on Hillary Clinton (and President Barack Obama) and her “failed leadership”. Kaine played well to his audience – yes Americans are safer because of killing Osama bin Laden, diplomacy with Russia on nuclear weapons and with Iran on reducing its nuclear capacity, and on an economy that has produced 15 million jobs.
Pence reminded his audience that unions representing law enforcement both in American communities and on the borders have endorsed Trump. He agreed with Kaine that community policing works but reminded us that painting law enforcement with the broad stroke of institutional racism is just not helpful. And Clinton did in fact insult millions of Americans (“a basketful of deplorables”) who happen to support Trump for the Presidency.
Yes, Kaine asserted, but at least Clinton apologized the next day. When has Trump ever apologized for anything, Kaine wondered. Pence did defend Trump for doing what any business would do in tough times – take advantage of tax laws to save his businesses and jobs. Meanwhile, Clinton – in the view of Pence – has helped launder foreign money in a pay for play scheme. Oh yeah? Well let me tell you about the Trump Foundation, said Kaine.
Once again in a Vice Presidential debate we are reminded that the candidates are better people than the top of the ticket. But I think that Kaine won this round. He was prepared to defend Clinton on national security, on jobs, on diplomacy, on a plan for education and mental health. Kaine also won on inclusion in an America that is increasingly diverse. Pence was no shrinking violet at all. He represented a conservative view that is sincere and better than anything Trump represents.
But the format for this debate simply did not work. It was supposed to be a discussion and immediately turned into an aggressive fight. Here is where I think that Kaine simply lost. He came out too hot, too aggressive, too ready to engage in mixed martial arts in a format and medium that rewards the likable and cordial. Like his running mate, he was too ready to laugh at and dismiss his opponent. Kaine was simply too hot under the collar. He came in as a nice guy and morphed into a bully. He was prepared but he simply punched too hard. No doubt, Kaine is a gifted leader and a successful communicator. But tonight did not work for him. In the end, I am not sure he really helped his ticket.