Brandon Greenblatt // 06 October 2016 // #Election2016
Vice Presidential Candidates Tim Kaine (D) and Mike Pence (R) took the stage at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia on October 4 for this election season’s only vice presidential debate. The debate, which was moderated by CBS News’ Elaine Quijano, touched on a variety of issues, including immigration, abortion, foreign policy towards Russia and North Korea, terrorism, faith, and presidential temperament. You can view a recording of the debate here.
Without delving too much into the content of the debate (because we want you to watch it for yourselves and decide who won!), I’d like to highlight a couple of topical points that stood out to me:
First, both Tim Kaine (right) and Mike Pence spoke at length about the role that faith plays in their governance. Senator Kaine noted that his Catholic upbringing occasionally conflicts with the liberal, progressive policies of the Democratic Party - particularly on abortion and capital punishment - but that he unequivocally supports the rule of law and Hillary Clinton’s stances on those issues. Governor Pence, meanwhile, stated that his evangelical-Catholic faith strongly guides his political beliefs on social issues such as abortion, the necessity of traditional family values, and his plan to increase opportunities for adoption.
Second, Tim Kaine and Mike Pence (right) have radically different debating styles. After the first presidential debate, many media organizations noted Donald Trump’s aggressive style and tendency to interject, whereas Clinton was described as a more composed and calm. These styles appeared flip-flopped with regard to Kaine and Pence; Kaine strived to have a two-way dialogue with Pence, whereas Pence’s approach was more measured and reticent. This is not to say that a particular debating style is preferable to another, just that, perhaps ironically, the styles crossed partisan lines. That is, Kaine and Trump debate with similar mannerisms, as do Pence and Clinton.
Third, neckties are important! If you looked carefully, Senator Kaine wore a white shirt and red tie, while Governor Pence wore a white shirt and blue tie. This inverted the traditional colors of their respective parties (blue symbolizes Democrats and red symbolizes Republicans) -- obviously in an appeal to undecided voters affiliated with the opposite party. There’s not much else to say on this point, other that I found the calculated fashion choices a little bit funny, especially because the candidates made no effort to hide them! The same thing happened in last Monday’s presidential debate as well; Donald Trump wore a blue tie while clinton appeared in a red power suit. I wonder if this occurs in Germany as well... do candidates there factor fashion into their appeals to voters? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!
With all of this said, I want to turn to my key, serious observation of the debate: It was less about the vice presidential candidate’s policies and qualifications and more about delivering a robust defense of their presidential partners.
Leading up to the debate, this was to be expected. The American public values vice presidents for their close contact and influence on the president, and because they’re the first to assume the presidency should the president become unable to serve. Yet, in an election season, vice presidential candidates, honestly, are viewed as proxies for their presidential candidate counterparts. Since Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s experiences, scandals, and policies so easily dominate the news headlines here, the debate was going to be not a contest between the vice presidential candidates themselves, but rather a fight over who could better represent Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, respectively.
The Vice President of the United States is the first person in the presidential line of succession, the second highest position in the Executive Branch, and President of the Senate.
You can decide for yourself who did a better job on this front, but I want to note just how eager the vice presidential candidates were. Both were quick to support their presidential candidate partners, both on offense and defense. Governor Pence defended what many have referred to as Donald Trump’s un-presidential temperament, and he attacked Secretary Clinton’s foreign policy as having facilitated the rise of ISIL and strengthened an Iranian nuclear power. Senator Kaine lauded Secretary Clinton’s role in what he described as President Obama’s signature foreign policy successes, such as the Iran nuclear deal and assassination of Osama bin Laden, while simultaneously criticizing Donald Trump’s recent comments on women, immigrants, and African-Americans. A back-and-forth on these issues dominated most of the evening’s debate.
To a certain extent, Kaine's and Pence’s comments on these issues seemed pre-formulated and scripted. Indeed, would anyone have expected that Trump’s temperament or Clinton’s foreign policy record wouldn’t come up in the debate? However, I was struck by the extent to which neither vice presidential candidate offered any significant, original opinions on these issues. For the most part, Pence echoed Trump’s criticisms of Clinton, and Kaine reiterated Clinton’s attacks against Trump and confronted Pence with some examples of Trump’s offensive campaign rhetoric.
Many Americans view these debates as an opportunity to gauge the candidates’ speaking styles and abilities to communicate under pressure, and the debate certainly succeeded on this front. However, if you were looking for original substance in this debate, particularly any enumeration of policy ideas or critiques, you would likely be disappointed by Tuesday night. I think that Kaine and Pence, both so eager to represent their partners in the best light and avoid any significant gaffes or missteps, were a bit hesitant to deviate from script. Instead, they painted a picture of America and their opposition with broad brush strokes, sticking to generalizations and statements that could not be misunderstood or used against them.
However, these are just my opinions! I would encourage you to watch the debate for yourself and render your own conclusions on how each candidate did and whom you might vote for! Maybe also take some time to read the American and German news media for some expert (though not unbiased) commentary on the debate to see what your peers and fellow citizens think. Also, feel free to comment below and let us know your thoughts on Elections 2016 and the vice presidential debate in particular!
Finally, look out for an upcoming post profiling Governor Mike Pence from Teach About Us blogger Liz Subrin!
(Photo credit: Wikipedia, PBS NewsHour/YouTube)
Brandon Greenblatt is a student majoring in International Affairs and studying German at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and originally from Matthews, North Carolina. Brandon is no stranger to writing and publishing as the editor of the Western Europe section of The Caravel, Georgetown's international affairs newspaper.