The first and only vice presidential debate, at Longwood University in southern Virginia, was mostly about the candidates who were not in the room.
Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, had the bigger challenge in defending Donald Trump, who had one of the worst weeks of his candidacy after he seemed unprepared at the first presidential debate. Pence called some of Tim Kaine’s attacks “nonsense,” and swatted away some of Kaine’s more clearly canned lines, including two that referenced Trump’s reality TV show. But he deflected and diverted the conversation as Kaine challenged him on his unwillingness to defend Trump.
Kaine needed to help hold the ground that Democratic contender Hillary Clinton reclaimed in the polls after the first debate.
Here are some takeaways from their debate:
Asked about their leadership abilities in case either man had to step into the Oval Office, Kaine ticked off his resume: missionary, civil rights lawyer, mayor of Richmond, governor and senator from Virginia. He said he would “relish” the role of being Clinton’s “right hand man,” adding that she told him, “I think you will help me figure out how to govern this nation so the success of this administration is the difference we make in people’s lives.”
Pence, who served in Congress and is now his state’s chief executive, talked about his growing up in small-town Indiana “with a cornfield in my backyard.” If the responsibilities of the presidency ever fell to him, “I would meet that moment with that lifetime of experience.”
Pence sought to turn the controversy over Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns into an attack aimed at portraying Clinton and Kaine as tax and spend liberals.
“All we heard is more taxes, $2 trillion in more spending,” Pence said as the moderator asked him whether Trump should release his tax returns, as Pence did in September. “Honestly, senator, you can roll out the numbers and the sunny side but I’ve got to tell you the people in Scranton know better the answer to this economy is not more taxes.”
Pressed by the moderator, Pence argued that Trump was a “businessman, not a politician” and used a provision in the tax code to keep his business afloat.
“How do you know that? We don’t know his taxes,” Kaine shot back, arguing that Trump once promised in 2014 that he would release his returns when he ran for the presidency.
POLICE AND RACE
Pence gave an impassioned defense of police officers and his running mate’s call for increased “law and order” as the two tangled over how to handle rising tensions over the deaths of black men at the hands of police officers.
“Let’s not have the reflex of assuming the worst of men and women in law enforcement,” Pence said. “Law enforcement in this country is a force for good.”
He charged that “broad-brush generalizations of bias … demean law enforcement broadly.”
Kaine countered that “people shouldn’t be afraid to bring up bias in law enforcement.”
Pence defended Trump’s support for the controversial policing tactic known as stop-and-frisk, but Kaine warned it would be a “big mistake.”