Commentary: Will Tuesday's VP Debate Help Or Hurt Trump?

Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine (AP photos)
Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine (AP photos)

Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate is not expected to draw a huge audience.

The two candidates, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, are considered bland and boring. Or, to be more kind, “vice presidential.”

But the debate should be surprisingly lively.

Their clashes will produce a lot of news coverage and will likely trigger post-debate accusations about who was factually correct and who seemed more capable as a potential president.

Predictably, both presidential campaigns will claim that their running mates won the debate. And some of the arguments raised by the VP candidates will carry into next week’s presidential debate. Thus the VP debate could affect the dynamic of the race.

Donald Trump’s running mate, Pence, will probably be on the defensive a lot. That’s because he will have to defend his presidential nominee on the controversies of this past week. Trump did poorly in the first debate, according to all the legitimate polls, and he’s been on the defensive in post-debate news coverage.

Even before those new controversies, Pence would have been at a disadvantage since he’d have to defend Trump on a number of major issues where he himself has disagreed with him. It’s hard for him to defend his own conservative positions while defending Trump’s opposing views. For example, Pence originally condemned Trump’s proposed ban on all Muslims coming into the country. Kaine has had differences with Clinton on issues, too, but not as extreme and hard to reconcile.

But now it’s the epic meltdown of Trump for the last week that puts great pressure on Pence. Trump’s campaign advisers must be hoping that Pence can provide some relief by distracting attention from Trump’s recent rants, and perhaps even demonstrate to Trump how to act.

Here are three questions that Kaine will probably put to Pence about his running mate:

Is Trump unhinged? Trump has gone off script since the first debate, including doing a crude impersonation of Hillary Clinton suffering from pneumonia. He was even tweeting at 5 a.m. about Miss Universe of 1996 — urging people to look at some sex tape that doesn’t seem to exist. Does he have the discipline and stability to be commander-in-chief?

What about tax avoidance? The New York Times revealed that Trump may have not paid federal income taxes for many years. Trump spokesman Rudy Giuliani says he’s a “genius” for avoiding taxes, but what does that say about working people who don’t have lawyers to exploit all the tax loopholes? And what else might Trump be hiding by not releasing all of his tax returns?

Is Trump hypocritical? Trump has attacked his opponent for her husband’s infidelities, and even suggested that maybe she has been unfaithful herself. But the ghostwriter of Trump’s autobiography, Tony Schwartz, said he remembers while writing “Art of the Deal” that Trump “was openly cheating on his first wife.” Isn’t Trump hypocritical by pushing this issue, or at least unpresidential?

Headshot of Todd Domke

Todd Domke Republican Political Analyst
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.



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