Tonight’s VP debate will be a challenge for Democrat Tim Kaine, but it could be a crisis for Republican Mike Pence. That’s because Hillary Clinton and Kaine are compatible in philosophy, on nearly every issue—but Donald Trump has actively and purposely alienated many of those who believe in Mike Pence’ ideals. If Trump were well ahead, he could just submit, the way GHW Bush supported Ronald Reagan. But the race is so close, and the Trump-Pence differences are so great, that Pence’ job will be difficult indeed.


The conservative Washington Examiner has a story about that exact thing today.

When Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence debates his Democratic counterpart Tim Kaine Tuesday night, he will face the tougher challenge.

Pence will need to do his part to try to arrest Donald Trump’s slide in the polls since the first presidential debate, while also demonstrating he can play a key conservative leadership role that will come in handy whether he is elected vice president or becomes part of the post-Trump GOP soul-searching that will surely take place if Hillary Clinton wins.

“He could either be our man inside a Trump administration,” a Republican strategist said of Pence. “Or an early 2020 front-runner.”

It’s a delicate dance Pence has often had to perform since joining the ticket. While running mates often perform the attack dog role, he has often to soften Trump’s rhetoric and reassure conservatives.

Even precocious 11-year-olds have noticed that Pence often plays good cop to Trump’s bad cop.

The Examiner is talking about an episode last month, when he took a question from an 11-year-old boy, Matthew Schricker.

“I’ve been watching the news lately, and I’ve been noticing that you’ve been kind of softening up on Mr. Trump’s policies and words,” Matthew said skeptically. “Is this going to be your role in the administration?”

Some say Pence should strike off on his own.

Some Republicans are going so far as to urge Pence to go rogue, defending conservative policies and themes rather than Trump. . .

“Showing his independence wouldn’t just be good for the voters; it could also be great for Mike Pence,” he added. “He could win back some respect from people who think he made a mistake in joining this ticket. And he could make a critical difference for the ticket he represents.”

Some say just agreeing to be on the ticket was a big mistake.

Could Pence’s place on the ticket with Trump make him damaged goods with conservatives for the rest of his career?

It’s a calculated risk Pence took when he decided to accept Trump VP offer, outraging a conservative intelligentsia that mostly hates the Republican nominee. If Trump wins, Pence will at some point be the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination. If he loses, Pence will be best positioned to unite Trump and Cruz voters — who made up 70 percent of the 2016 primary total — four years from now.

Of course, Tim Kaine is not going to stand idly by tonight.

While Kaine tries to paint the steady, even-keeled Pence as a Trump acolyte, Pence’s job is to steady the ship and remind conservatives what the Republican Party stands for: a pro-growth economic agenda and a break from the left-leaning policies of President Barack Obama. . .

“Tim’s going to make Pence very uncomfortable. Mike Pence has a lot of discomfort talking about Trump’s rhetoric and his policies,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “I hope Tim makes Pence own every bit of Trump’s radical, racist, misogynist agenda.”

“The problem for Mike Pence is his job in this campaign is apologist-in-chief, and he’s the guy who has to keep trying to explain the unexplainable,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). . .

“It’s a higher bar for Pence than it is for Kaine,” said Mo Elleithee, a former Kaine aide. “He’s in a precarious position. And the campaign is in a precarious position.”

That is not to say that Kaine and Hillary are identical.

At least, that’s the hope for Republicans. And though there are fewer things for Kaine to have to defend Clinton on, Pence does have some ammo when it’s his turn to go on offense. First there’s making Kaine defend Clinton’s own controversies: her private email server, her attacks on the “basket of deplorables” that support Trump and her near-collapse at a Sept. 11 event in New York.

Then there are Kaine’s own breaks with Clinton. He personally supports the Hyde Amendment, which bans taxpayer-funded abortions, yet says he will work with Clinton to overturn it as vice president. He praised the Trans-Pacific Partnership the same week he was selected as Clinton’s running mate, then came out against it.

“There’s stuff that Kaine’s had to — in order to kind of get himself in alignment with that ticket — adopt positions that are different than positions he had [while] serving here. It’s all fair game,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).

Meanwhile, Breitbart says the debate will be a blowout—in Pence’ favor.

Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate in Farmville, Virginia between Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine is not a fair fight. Pence will dominate — while the country will worry anew about Hillary Clinton’s health, given her replacement. . .

Pence has rocked the campaign trail, while Kaine has been a wet rag. While Pence has played to packed houses across the country, Kaine has struggled to draw anyone at all, even in swing states where the contest is closest.

Thus far, Kaine’s only noteworthy contributions to his side’s efforts have been his repeated, shrill accusations that Donald Trump is associated with the Ku Klux Klan, and his lies defending Clinton on her mis-handling of classified information.

Overall, Pence has been a net positive for the Trump campaign, reassuring the public that Trump will a) appoint competent people to high posts, and b) be replaced by a capable leader, should the worst happen.

By contrast, Kaine has been a net negative for the Clinton campaign. He seems to have been chosen for the sole reason that he would not overshadow her on stage. In fact, when they appear together, she seems more likely to lose. It is difficult to imagine Kaine running the country.

Related: Watch the VP Debate Live Tonight at 9pm ET

Add Comment | Follow us on Twitter and Facebook
Filed in: 2016 Tagged in:
Goethe Behr is a Contributing Editor and Moderator at Election Central. He started out posting during the 2008 election, became more active during 2012, and very active in 2016. He has been a political junkie since the 1950s and enjoys adding a historical perspective.

Subscribe Via Email

Sign up for instant election alerts and the latest content delivered to your inbox: