Tonight, the first and only Vice-Presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence will take place, at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.
Typically, there is minimal media attention directed toward the Vice-Presidential debate in an election campaign. This is because the Vice-Presidential debate rarely influences the result of the election in the same way as the Presidential Debates proper do. However, tonight’s debate still matters, and could potentially be important to the eventual outcome of the campaign.
Usually, the point of the Vice-Presidential debate is to test the competence of each Vice-Presidential nominee in case of a situation arising where said nominee is forced to deputise (or take over from) the sitting President. This means that the Vice-Presidential debate is usually a thorough discussion of the record of each candidate, and their competency for the job in hand.
However, this won’t be the case this time around.
This Presidential campaign has been dominated by the records of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the suitability of each of these candidates for the White House. Expect, this Vice-Presidential debate to be completely dominated by discussion of the competency of Trump and Clinton. Effectively Pence and Kaine will simply be acting as surrogates for their running mates, and answering questions on their behalf.
For Kaine this will mean going after Trump’s temperament and looking to hammer home the message that Clinton looked to push during the first Presidential Debate — that Trump doesn’t have the temperament required for the Oval Office. Given the week that Trump has had, Kaine will certainly have plenty of readily available material to use to criticise Trump.
Pence, on the other hand, will look to push the Trump line that Clinton will not be able to create the change in Washington that Trump can, and that she is simply a member of the political establishment. With Clinton having won the first debate, but not scored anything close to a knockout blow, Kaine’s performance could be very important.
For Pence, he needs to be able to show stability in the Trump campaign. Although Clinton won the debate, it wasn’t a thrashing by any means. However, Trump then spent the rest of the week making things very difficult for himself. He re-ignited a feud with a former Miss Universe winner, which involved him tweeting abuse in the early hours of Friday morning. There was then an investigation by The New York Times which suggested that Trump had been able to avoid income tax for almost twenty years, he failed to respond to this. Finally, he faced renewed question about the status of his charitable foundation, which he failed to answer satisfactorily. None of these did him any favours in terms of his goal of appearing Presidential. Pence needs to put in a solid, measured performance in order to try and put out the fire Trump has lit for himself.
Both Kaine and Pence are known for being mind-mannered, and so it will be interesting to see how they rise to the task of strongly criticising their opponent’s campaign. For Pence, the task is perhaps hardest. He has already been called into action throughout the campaign to defend Trump, but with the week Trump has had, this could prove very difficult. His only option could be to go on the attack.
What could be interesting is whether the debate boils down to a discussion on social issues. This was something which wasn’t covered in the first Presidential Debate, in part because they aren’t a key part of either Trump or Clinton’s pitch to become President. However, Pence is a social-conservative and has long been a champion of the anti-abortion movement, and the push to defund Planned Parenthood. On the other hand, Kaine has been a strong proponent for the abolition of the death penalty, and is generally socially liberal.
Overall, this Vice-Presidential debate could be an interesting one. With Pence facing the task of getting back on message, and negating the impact of some of Trump’s recent indiscretions; and Kaine attempting to hammer home these indiscretions, it could make for compelling viewing. On the other hand, with neither candidate known for their exciting oratory, it could be very dull. Who knows!