Vice presidential debate surprisingly lively and substantive

Presidential running mates Tim Kaine and Mike Pence met on Tuesday evening at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., for the first and only vice-presidential debate — an event that turned out to be more lively and arguably more substantive than expected.

Senator Kaine (D-Va.) and Governor Pence (R-Ind.) took contrasting approaches to the contest, with the Democratic contender frequently attacking Republican nominee Donald Trump on various topics in an attempt to get Pence to defend some of the more controversial aspects of his running mate’s campaign and personal style.

Pence, on the other hand, displayed a calm demeanor throughout, giving detailed answers to policy questions, defending Mr. Trump’s business record and remaining steadfast in response to Kaine’s insistence that the New York real estate mogul release his tax returns.

“I can’t imagine how Governor Pence can defend the insult-driven, me-first style of Donald Trump,” Kaine said in the beginning of the debate. Pence later accused Hillary Clinton of running an even more negative campaign, alluding to the Democratic candidate’s comment that “half” of Trump supporters are deplorable.

Responding to allegations that Trump has paid an effective zero percent federal tax rate since 1995, Pence offered a plausible defense by pointing out that “he used the tax code just the way it’s supposed to be used. And he did it brilliantly.” 

The second half of the debate mainly focused on foreign policy where two candidates intended to make the argument that each others’ running mate was either woefully unprepared to be a world leader or had previously failed in that capacity.

On three occasions, Pence described President Obama and former Secretary Clinton’s foreign leadership as “weak and feckless”, referring to apparent American failures in Iraq and Syria and in relation to Russia.

“The truth of the matter is, the weak and feckless foreign policy of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has awakened an aggression in Russia that first appeared a few years ago with their move in Georgia, now their move into Crimea, now their move into the wider Middle East,” Pence said. “And all the while, all we do is fold our arms and say we’re not having talks anymore.”

Kaine’s rebuttal highlighted Clinton’s role in the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the Obama administration’s successful Iran nuclear deal negotiation. The Virginia senator was also critical of Trump’s temperament, intimating that the Republican nominee would ultimately be a danger to national security.

“Donald Trump believes that the world will be safer if more nations have nuclear weapons,” Kaine said. “He’s said Saudi Arabia should get them, Japan should get them, Korea should get them. And when he was confronted with this, and told, wait a minute, terrorists could get those, proliferation could lead to nuclear war, here’s what Donald Trump said, and I quote: ‘Go ahead, folks, enjoy yourselves.'”

Although Sen. Kaine was on the offensive more often than Gov. Pence during the hour and a half conversation, particularly in his criticisms of Trump, a CNN/ORC poll of 472 registered voters who watched the debate found that 48 percent of respondents said Pence’s performance was better, compared to 42 percent who said the same about Kaine.


[AP] [Reuters] [Washington Post] [New York Times] [Photo courtesy AP/David Goldman via ABC-7]