On October 4th, Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, the respective Vice-Presidential nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties, went head-to-head in a crucial Vice-Presidential Debate. Even though I say ‘crucial’, this debate had the lowest viewership in comparison to the last two elections.
While Google Instant and Presidential Debate history suggest that second-in-command debates traditionally draw a much smaller audience than the Commander-in-Chief debates, in an election cycle as tumultuous as 2016, they carry a greater significance.
Let’s get to the Debate itself first.
The Debate – Complementing Mates
A complete contrast to the first Debate between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, this Vice-Presidential Debate proved that both Presidential Candidates have truly picked a complementing running mate.
I think FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver clearly hit the nail on the head, with this apt summary:
“The conventional wisdom rapidly seems to be congealing around something like the following — which I pretty much agree with:
1. Pence “won” on style/points, whereas Kaine was annoying and interrupt-y at some moments and sounded canned at others, but;
2. Pence was unable/unwilling to defend Trump and had a lot of incongruities and fact-checking problems, and that’ll make for a big debate about the debate tomorrow.”
From the beginning of the debate, Mr. Kaine came out of the gates charging like a bull towards a matador, and all Mr. Pence did was deftly deflect, albeit falsely on some occasions. Mr. Kaine was the contrasting twin of Mrs. Clinton’s calm, composed and ‘let-him-fall-into-my-trap’ candor during the Presidential Debate. Mr. Pence on the other hand was Mr. Trump’s more mature, polished and ‘he-can-do-no-wrong’ brother.
While the internet tells us that Mr. Kaine did not have a great night, a greater deal of credit should go to Mr. Pence’s harder job of defending Mr. Trump’s over-the-top claims in this Presidential Debate. With each question, Mr. Kaine quickly drilled down Mr. Trump’s statements seeking Mr. Pence’s defense. It was clear Mr. Pence had no intention of putting up a defense and handling each such claim with ‘absolutely not’ and ‘nonsense’, a throwback to Mr. Trump’s ‘Wrong’ in the first Presidential Debate. I personally counted six times where Mr. Kaine stated a quote from the Republican Presidential Campaign that Mr. Pence flat out denied:
Trump: NATO is obsolete
Trump: Putin has been a better leader than Obama
Trump: Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia might need nuclear weapons
Trump doing business in Russia
Pence: It’s inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country
Trump: Women that have abortions should be punished
In my opinion, the summary of this Vice-Presidential Debate was this sentiment:
Kaine was debating to be Vice President in 2016;
Pence was debating to run for President in 2020.
Clearly, Pence won the debate but Kaine won the news cycle.
Why These Vice Presidents Matter
Beginning with Mr. Trump, if reports that he offered Domestic AND Foreign Policy to Mr. Kasich while asking him to be Vice-President are true, then a Veep in a Trump Presidency would unquestionably be one of the most powerful position in the country. Choosing Mr. Pence as VP, we can imagine he’s the guy the Republicans chose to keep Mr. Trump focused on the traditional goals of the party. Following through on the Kasich offer to Mr. Pence, a strong possibility is that Mr. Trump’s main focus will be messaging, while Mr. Pence works behind the scenes with Mr. Ryan, and Mr. McConnell to cut deals in Congress. Understandably, the Speaker of the House, Mr. Ryan continues to support Trump even if he personally finds him repellant. A Trump Presidency is likely to be the easiest way the Freedom Caucus and the hardliners can get their agenda signed into law. What’s a little flattery for the cameras when you’re able to fully dominate public policy for four years?
On the other side of the aisle, the answer of Mr. Kaine’s selection seems pretty straightforward – A well respected senator and former governor from a swing state who speaks fluent Spanish with national security credentials. But to understand Mr. Kaine’s role in a Clinton Presidency, it is important to understand how Mrs. Clinton would potentially govern, a topic I covered in this article. Known as a great listener in Washington DC, Mr. Kaine’s voice in her ear could be influential. While initial indications prove that Mrs. Clinton chose a balancing act in the White House, Mr. Kaine’s role feels more traditional and less impactful than Mr. Pence’s ticket.
It is true, The Office of the Vice-President doesn’t do very much. Strictly in that regard, whoever holds the office doesn’t really matter.
However, in practice, the office can wield a great deal of influence. It all depends on the person holding the office and how the president allows them to operate within their administration. Dick Cheney was notable for being an exceptionally powerful vice president and having a near unprecedented level of direct impact on the Bush administration’s policy. Vice President Biden has also been a very influential veep. President Obama had him oversee the implementation of the economic stimulus package back in 2009 and the draw down of the Iraq War, among other things.
The role of VP has become huge in presidential politics. The vice president is almost always considered a potential candidate when speculation about who will run for president starts heating up. Most recently this happened late last year when there was talk that Joe Biden might run in 2016. Since WWII, five vice presidents have ascended to the presidency (Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Bush Sr.), either through the death or resignation of the POTUS or by being elected in their own right.
Picking a vice presidential running mate is the first major presidential decision a candidate makes. It says a lot to the electorate. When a candidate picks a running mate they are telling the country, “This is the person I want taking over for me if I drop dead. This is a person who will be one of my top advisers in the White House.”
The VP selection is the first sneak peek into how our potential next president is at making good decisions. Who do you think made the right call, Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton?