Vice Presidential Debate: What to Watch for Tonight

Vice presidential nominees Mike Pence and Tim Kaine
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Written by BU News Service

Democratic nominee Tim Kaine and Republican nominee Mike Pence are set to square off tonight in the vice presidential debate.  BU News Service staff weigh in on what to watch for tonight. And join us for live blog coverage of the debate at 9 p.m.

Kaine, Pence look to bring policy substance
Shannon Golden

Tonight’s vice presidential debate is expected to be quite the contrast from last weeks’ presidential debate. With the Trump-Clinton faceoff receiving record-breaking viewership, the VP debate is receiving subpar attention.

The vice presidential debate offers an opportunity for the American people to get to know the two men who do not have much of a reputation past their own states. Governor Mike Pence of Indiana and Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia are taking part in what is expected to be one of the least anticipated vice presidential debates in almost 40 years.

Despite the lack of attention, the debate should be extremely informative and much more policy driven. Compared to a Trump-Clinton debate, there is less drama involved between the two men, which could allow for more opportunity for the candidates to focus on issues that the American public wants to hear.

Gov. Pence will most likely attempt to defend Trump’s temperament and comments, such as the ones made in the presidential debate about the former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado. This would give Pence an opportunity to show himself as level-headed and potentially boost confidence among nervous voters who are on the fence about a Trump-Pence ticket.

Pence will also likely focus on attacking Clinton’s vulnerabilities more than Trump did during their debate. Issues such as the email scandal, Benghazi and allegations against the Clinton Foundation should be at the top of the list for Pence to use against Clinton.

In order for Sen. Kaine to end the night as the victor, he will have to force Pence to be on the defense for Trump instead of allowing Pence to attack Clinton.

Kaine will also likely attack Pence on the “Religious Freedom” law he signed in Indiana. Kaine has been outspoken against Pence on LGBTQ issues, calling him “anti-civil rights.”

With two vice presidential nominees who call themselves “boring” and a “B-list Republican celebrity,” Tuesday night is the big chance for the two to introduce themselves to American voters and persuade them that their ticket is better suited for the office.

How will Pence defuse his candidate’s controversial comments? 
Sarah Toy

Pence has done a “uniquely good job” as a Trump surrogate, according to Rebecca Berg of Real Clear Politics. By all appearances, it’s true. Throughout this election season, he has handled Trump’s controversial comments with seeming ease and calm, often with a smile on his face.

When Trump suggested that Clinton’s bodyguards “disarm immediately” and “see what happens,” many accused him of inciting violence against his rival. Pence defended his candidate, explaining, “I think what Donald Trump was saying is that if Hillary Clinton didn’t have all that security, she’d probably be a whole lot more supportive of the Second Amendment.”

When Trump said that Vladimir Putin was a stronger leader than Barack Obama, Pence backed him again, saying it was “inarguable,” while emphasizing Trump was not advocating for dictatorship.

“Donald Trump said last night he doesn’t particularly like the system,” he said.

When he can’t explain his candidate’s positions, Pence gracefully diverts the attention elsewhere. When ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked him why it took so long for Trump to admit Obama was born in the United States, Pence replied that the American people were focused on other issues before changing the subject to the Fraternal Order of Police’s endorsement of Trump.

So, tonight — watch this pro. How will he explain, defuse, and divert attention away from the latest controversial statements of his candidate?

What roles will Kaine and Pence play?
Eesha Pendharkar

Kaine and Pence have both been preparing extensively for their one and only face-off, and both are expected to play different roles in aiding their candidate’s campaign. Kaine is expected to have an easier job taking the offensive, while Pence’s main objective will be presenting his candidate as more level-headed and prepared than he appeared to be in the first presidential debate and since.

While Kaine’s best approach will be to agree with Clinton’s stance and highlight her experience, Pence will presumably face a lot of heat about his candidate’s most recent controversies. Trump’s comments about Miss Universe Alicia Machado, alleged sexual harassment on set of “The Apprentice” and primarily Trump’s tax returns are expected to be the Democratic vice presidential candidate’s offense. Pence, as a more seasoned politician, is expected to be prepared with a thorough strategy against Kaine’s questions.

Pence may have to explain Trump’s withdrawal from TV interviews and will possibly have to address Clinton’s email scandal and her health issues, but her apology about the emails and release of her medical reports have made Kaine’s job easier. Kaine’s likability is also a factor that might work against Pence.

Targeting each other’s weaknesses isn’t expected to be either VP candidate’s strategy as the main focus of their sole debate. With two of the most doubted and seemingly untrustworthy candidates to defend, both vice presidential nominees will be judged on how well they can minimize their candidate’s flaws with their own strengths.

How significant will religion and morality be?
Erin Wade

Both Kaine and Pence are more outwardly religious than their running mates, but as the New York Times noted Monday, religious morality has been decidedly absent from the presidential conversation this election season. The religions of the two vice presidential picks, however, will likely come into play during Tuesday night’s debate.

Pence identifies as an evangelical Christian, while Kaine identifies as Catholic. Both have made political decisions based on their religious beliefs, shaping their personal and political views on abortion and gay marriage, for example, to fit their respective views on religious morality.

Kaine does not personally believe abortion is morally right but is pro-abortion rights, saying in one NPR interview, “I don’t think my job as a public official is to make everybody else follow the Catholic church’s teaching,” invoking the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

Kaine also said last month, in a speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala, that he believed the Catholic church would soon change its stance on gay marriage to be more reflective of “a creator who, in the first chapter of Genesis, surveyed the entire world, including mankind, and said, ‘It is very good.'” His bishop, Francis X. DiLorenzo, promptly denied that Catholic teachings on gay marriage would change, calling the church’s stance “unchanged and resolute” in a statement released last month.

Pence, in contrast to Kaine, is decidedly anti-abortion, passing a controversial law in March that banned abortions sought because of known or suspected fetal disabilities and that required aborted or miscarried fetal remains to be interred or cremated. He released a statement following his passage of the bill that said: “By enacting this legislation, we take an important step in protecting the unborn, while still providing an exception for the life of the mother. I sign this legislation with a prayer that God would continue to bless these precious children, mothers and families.”

Until the Supreme Court legalized it nationwide in 2015, Pence was adamantly opposed to gay marriage. Pence also initially supported a version of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act that many interpreted as allowing businesses to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, requesting clarified language, which he then signed into law, after he received protests about the wording of the original legislation.

The vice-presidential candidates both frequently discuss the impact of religion on their lives, with Kaine often mentioning his nine-month Jesuit mission trip to Honduras as a pivotal experience in his life and Pence repeatedly saying he is “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”

With both candidates so strongly emphasizing the role of faith in their lives, religious and moral themes will likely be at the fore in Tuesday night’s debate.

How will Trump’s taxes play into this debate?
Michael Sol Warren

In the week following the first presidential debate, the two candidates have had very different news cycles. Clinton was widely hailed as the winner of the debate and has avoided any major controversy in the time since. Trump, on the other hand, has stirred various controversies with the comments he made in the debate and his actions in the days following.

Perhaps the most dominant controversy of Trump’s week has been whether or not he pays federal taxes. The Republican candidate has refused to release his most recent tax returns, citing an ongoing IRS audit, and this refusal has been the source of speculation among Democrats as to what information may be in those returns. During the debate, Clinton questioned whether Trump paid taxes at all. Trump responded by saying that avoiding taxes “makes [him] smart”.

All of this was compounded on Saturday evening when The  York Times ran a story showing that Trump could have avoided paying taxes for 18 years as a result of declaring a $916 million loss in 1995. Taking the loss was not illegal on Trump’s part, but it doesn’t look great for a presidential candidate to dodge taxes.

Trump’s tax payments will likely make an appearance in tonight’s debate; it will be interesting to see how Pence handles the topic. Pence will likely frame Trump’s actions as evidence of shrewd business acumen and a nuanced understanding of the system. Pence may also take the opportunity to criticize the existing tax code and call for reform. Whatever angle he takes, he’ll need to deliver it well. The tax questions are plaguing Trump, and Pence needs to do all he can to help his running mate.

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