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Pence Upstages Trump

The Indiana governor overshadowed Tim Kaine, his Democratic rival—even as he declined to defend his own running mate.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

For a summit derided as a showdown between two affable boring suits, Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate turned out to be an acrimonious affair. If this was a pair of dads, they were the type who get into near fist-fights on the sidelines of Pop Warner games, not the friendly ones who cheer for both teams.

Mike Pence, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, dominated throughout the night. He was smooth, smiling, and unflappable. Tim Kaine, his Democratic counterpart, wasn’t able to break through, trying—often unsuccessfully—to cut in to rebut Pence, and to deliver a series of carefully prepared one-liners.  But Pence, the governor of Indiana, seldom took the bait, grinning, raising his eyebrows in mock surprise, and shaking off Kaine’s attacks with a Reagan-style shrug. At one point he even copped the Gipper’s line: “There they go again,” he said.

If Pence was the victor on the stage, it’s less clear whether the Trump campaign can reap any large benefit from it. Clinton surely would have preferred a more agile performance from her running mate, but Kaine successfully brought up a long line of Trump’s most inflammatory comments, forcing Pence to reckon with and sometimes deny them, as well as to distance himself from Trump on Russia. These comments will be relitigated in the coming days, as will Pence’s shaky refutations. That means that while Pence triumphed on stage, the aftermath of the debate may help Clinton as much or more than it does Trump. Besides, vice-presidential debates rarely swing elections, especially when the heads of both tickets are such powerful personalities.

One reason for Pence’s success was that Kaine, a senator from Virginia, seemed for most of the debate to be uninterested in debating Pence. His strategy coming into the debate was plainly to do all he could to remind viewers of Donald Trump’s shortcomings. At the end of each litany, Kaine would offer some variation on the same tagline: “I can’t believe Governor Pence is willing to defend his running mate’s record …” Then Pence would respond, often declining to defend Trump, and turning attacks back on Kaine. Meanwhile, he inserted a series of casual barbs, telling Kaine twice that he looked forward to working with him when he returned to the Senate.

In policy terms, Pence demonstrated that he is a far more effective advocate for the Trump campaign’s proposals than the nominee himself is. Pence worked to lash Hillary Clinton to the foreign policy of the Obama administration. He accused Clinton of bad-mouthing police, both during the first presidential debate and elsewhere. “I just think what we ought to do is we ought to stop seizing on these moments of tragedy,” Pence said. “Enough of this seeking every opportunity to demean law enforcement broadly by making the accusation of implicit bias every time tragedy occurs.” He managed to inject a degree of coherence into an economic plan that Trump has not achieved.

One of the stranger exchanges came in the final third of the debate, as Pence provided an alternate-universe idea of what a Republican ticket might look like. He attacked Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “small” man, and argued that the United States must show strength to prevent Russian expansionism. His confidently stated argument was directly at odds with much of what Trump has said, praising Putin’s leadership, suggesting Russia had not annexed Crimea, and suggesting the U.S. should pull back from allies. Kaine eagerly pointed this out, reciting a string of Trump’s statements about Russia. Pence simply denied, falsely, that Trump had made many of the statements.

That was emblematic of the evening. Kaine mounted prepared attacks on Trump—the lawyerly, bullet-pointed paragraphs landing, the canned one-liners falling flat—and then challenged Pence to defend his running mate. Pence would accuse Clinton and Kaine of running an insult-based campaign, promise that he would defend Trump, and then quickly change the subject. That points to Pence’s problem: Though he showed himself a better, more natural debater, he still has to defend the set of policy priorities that Trump has laid out. In some cases that worked better than others, as with the economic proposal, but in others, he had a tougher task. Kaine repeatedly demanded to know why Trump would not release his taxes, and Pence never offered a defense.

It wasn’t just the taxes. Kaine ran through all the greatest hits: Trump’s “rapists” line about Mexicans, his attack on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, his insults against women, his ridicule of John McCain for being captured, and so on. Pence repeatedly denied that Trump said things he said publicly and managed to seem genuinely affronted that Kaine would mention Trump’s past statements, labeling it evidence of Clinton’s “insult-driven campaign.” Pence’s flat denials seemed to catch Kaine off guard. Pence mocked Kaine for preparing for the debate, just as Donald Trump had tried against Hillary Clinton, but to much greater effect. Kaine, after all, often sounded like he was reciting his lines.

The debate began with several bitter exchanges. Kaine began interrupting early on, perhaps trying to throw Pence off as Joe Biden did to Paul Ryan four years ago. Within minutes, the two men were talking over each other repeatedly, drawing a rebuke from moderator Elaine Quijano. She was a disappearing presence on the stage, asking a series of largely open-ended questions but not doing much to corral the candidates. Pence was much more adept at taking advantage of that, calmly finishing his answers, speaking over Quijano and Kaine and getting his licks in.

The debate wasn’t really boring, per se, as it had been predicted, and it certainly wasn’t friendly. But it wasn’t especially revelatory, either. Other than Pence’s strikingly difference Trump on Russia, and one memorably ribald line toward the end (“you whipped out that Mexican thing again”), the debate covered little new ground. Pence can’t do much to reverse the things Trump has already said, but he showed that a talented debater can smooth them out a bit.

David A. Graham


This live blog has concluded

How Significant Will This Debate Be to the Election?

Mike Pence may have soothed some Trump supporters who stand with the GOP candidate but cringe at some of the blunt and combative things he says. And Kaine's performance was less than inspiring. It will be interesting to see what kind of audience this debate ended up drawing, though. There will be far less people who tune in to the veep debate than watch the presidential debates.

Another factor that makes the VP debate matter less is that this is the only one. There are still two more scheduled presidential debates. The impression that the candidates leave during those performances will likely matter far more than anything Pence or Kaine said tonight.

How Pence Was the 'Cool, Collected One' for Most of the Debate

Julio Cortez / AP

In tone and comportment, Mike Pence clearly had the upper hand during this debate. Much like Hillary Clinton last Monday, he was the calm, cool, and collected one until the last several minutes of the debate, when Tim Kaine finally got a rise out of him.

Kaine, meanwhile, seemed a bit jumpy, and interrupted Pence quite a bit, perhaps too much. On substance, both men came prepared and arguably presented better versions of their running mates than either Clinton or Trump. If there was any memorable lines tonight, however, it was Pence's odd interjection, "Senator, you've whipped out that Mexican thing again."

To the extent that becomes an oft-repeated line in the coming days, it could take some of the luster off his performance.

The Two Kinds of American Christianity Personified Onstage

There are two strains of American Christianity on display on this stage—each equally heartfelt and sincere, and not least on the issue of abortion, fundamentally at odds with each other.

Mike Pence and Tim Kaine just offered strong expositions of their own stance on the contentious issue. For those unnerved by Donald Trump’s lack of emphasis on the sanctity of life, Pence’s performance just now may offer the kind of emphatic public statement for which they’ve longed during this campaign. The pro-choice community will find much to applaud in Kaine’s answer, although core advocates won’t be similarly pleased, given Kaine’s personal opposition to abortion.

But the positions, albeit heartfelt, are also well rehearsed, and the divides they reflect cut deep. If there are voters out there casting their ballots on the basis of this issue, their minds were made up long ago.

Condemning Trump's Comments With Biblical Verse

Trump at an Arizona rally Tuesday
Ross D. Franklin / AP

A moment ago, Kaine referenced the Bible, using a familiar quip from the campaign trail: "From the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks."

It's a paraphrase of Matthew 15:18, and Kaine used it to condemn Trump's comments that he wanted to "punish" women who get abortions and Trump’s characterization of Mexican immigrants as “rapists."

Pence's response? "Senator, you've whipped out that that Mexican thing again."

"Why don't you trust women? Why doesn't Donald Trump trust women?" Kaine goes for the gut in an exchange over abortion.

"Donald Trump is not a polished politician," Pence says about Trump's comment that women should be "punished" for having an abortion. Trump made those remarks to Chris Matthews and then retracted them.

Nearly 90 minutes into the debate, that might have been the first time that Pence has actually addressed directly one of Trump's many controversial statements. He makes clear that neither he nor Trump would support legislation that punished women as opposed to doctors over abortion.

What a strange moment. Kaine gives a strong personal answer about capital punishment about when his personal faith has clashed with his political obligations. Then, instead of answering the question, Pence took the opportunity to instead discuss his opposition to abortion and Clinton's support for abortion rights. A missed opportunity to humanize himself for the audience.

Pence is talking about the centrality of his pro-life views and opposition to abortion. His record supports it: This spring, he signed a piece of legislation that would ban abortion on the basis of gender or disability, and also mandated burial or cremation for fetuses.

How Kaine's Faith Informs His Political Decisionmaking

David Goldman / AP

Kaine talked about his struggle with overseeing the death penalty when he was governor of  Virginia as an example of a time when he struggled to govern according to his faith.

This is something he's talked about extensively in the past, and in general, represents his approach to being a Catholic policymaker: He argues that his views shouldn't be "substituted for those of everyone else in society."

Kaine's Russia Attack Isn't Working

One thing that Kaine is not landing tonight is the explicit connection between the release of Trump's tax returns and what they might show about Trump's conflicts of interests with foreign nations like Russia.

"What does this have to do with Russia?" Pence asked at one point, and it's something viewers might be wondering as well. Kaine needs to make clear is how Trump's tax returns would tell the story of Trump's dealings abroad if he wants his criticism to be effective.

Pence says it's "absolutely inaccurate" that Trump has praised Putin over Obama, then says America should "go back to the days of peace through strength." In 2014, Trump half-agreed.

The Trump campaign has put out a press release that Donald himself has just tweeted in all-caps:

It’s an attack that underscores the difference between the two running mates on the GOP ticket. Pence took pains to attack Kaine’s record as Virginia governor, accusing him of leaving it “about $2 billion in the hole.” But he didn’t do what Trump himself has just done, lauding a solidly red state, while labeling Virginia—a crucial swing state—“failed.”

What Hasn't Come Up in Tonight's Debate

A Denver, Colorado, watch party
Brennan Linsley / AP

Issues we've heard about, 75 minutes into the debate: immigration, national security, police security, cyber security, foreign policy, terrorism, leadership. Things we haven't heard about: Abortion. Women's issues. LGBT rights. Religious freedom. Climate change.

This debate is apparently modeled around the kind of "broad-shouldered leadership" Pence alluded to--all security, and few of the "softer" issues that will also be important in the next administration's domestic policymaking.

Pence and Kaine Are Both Fathers of Marines

Listening to these two candidates debate national-security issues, it’s easy to overlook perhaps the most remarkable aspect of their conversation: It’s taking place between two fathers of children on active duty.

Pence’s son is in flight training; Kaine’s is an infantry officer. Both are in the United States Marine Corps. Despite their differences, these issues are very real to them, in a way that remarkably few nationally prominent politicians share.

Kaine says the Trump campaign has called Putin a "great leader." Pence denies it. Here's the quote from Trump: Putin has “been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.” Also:

"If he says great things about me, I'm going to say great things about him."

“He's asking us to vote for somebody he cannot defend," Kaine says, after accusing Pence of not defending Trump positions Kaine has brought up in the debate. This contest is about the big blond elephant not in the room.

Mike Pence's Favorite 'Old Proverb'

An actual Russian bear, at the Royev Ruchey zoo in Krasnoyarsk.
Ilya Naymushin / Reuters

Can’t be sure, but Mike Pence is the only source I can find for that “old proverb” about Russian bears hibernating instead of dying. In 2014, he made a similar analogy to the National Review:  “History shows the Russian Bear’s ambitions never die, they just go into hibernation.”

Mike Pence would have one hell of a debate with his running mate on their respective views of Russia. Donald Trump is as friendly on its regime as any politician in America. Pence sounds more like Mitt Romney did in 2012.

Mike Pence 2020?

Darron Cummings / AP

Pence calling Vladimir Putin the “small and bullying leader of Russia” places an exclamation point on his remarkable performance. Rather than defend Donald Trump or his record, Pence is offering a vision of the sort of candidate the Republican Party might’ve nominated if this had been a normal year. Tough on Russia. Aggressive on foreign policy. Hawkish on debt.

What are voters supposed to make of this? There’s not much here to illuminate the candidacy of Donald Trump, but there’s quite a bit that makes Mike Pence look like an attractive candidate—if not for the vice presidency this year, than certainly for the presidency come 2020 or 2024.

Pence's critique of U.S. policy in Syria--including an explicit call for military action here--comes directly after the State Department ended bilateral talks with Russia over a ceasefire in the country.

Checking In on Donald Trump's Twitter Activity

Donald Trump promised to live-tweet the debate and he has certainly been active on Twitter. So far, though, he has mostly been re-tweeting other accounts rather than offering up his own commentary.

The overarching message is clear though: Trump is pushing the message that Pence is winning. "Pence is so prepared! He did his homework to outperform Kaine," one account Trump re-tweeted declares. Another re-tweeted account adds: "Loving @mike_pence he's so likeable and sensible. Kaine is just talking bull!"

"The small and bullying leader of Russia?" Could Pence be talking about Vladimir Putin, who Trump has famously been reluctant to critique?

"The small and bullying leader of Russia?" Could Pence be talking about Vladimir Putin, who Trump has famously been reluctant to critique?

Kaine (correctly) notes that a three-judge panel on the Seventh Circuit, which included three of the nation's most conservative judges, struck down Pence's order to block Syrian refugees as discriminatory yesterday. Pence replies by claiming the judges had simply said there wasn't any evidence to support his security fears "yet."

Not quite. In fact, Judge Posner, writing for the unanimous panel, described Pence's claims as "nightmare speculation" and repeatedly dismissed his fears as unfounded.

Pence’s pivot to talking about Syrian refugees has masterfully shut down any discussion of how Trump would prevent radicalized American citizens from launching attacks within the country. Even in this back-and-forth with Kaine on security, there’s no mention of moderator Elaine Quijano’s original question. Possibly because there’s no good, quick answer—better intelligence? More surveillance?

The Trump Campaign's Plans for Refugees Are Murky

Trump at a national-security roundtable in August
Gerald Herbert / AP

Pence is vulnerable on the question of refugees, just as he's unable to answer the question on homegrown terrorism. He emphasized that the Trump campaign would undertake "extreme vetting" of potential refugees, but the specifics of that are devilishly unclear. The campaign has backed away from screening refugees on the basis of religion, as Trump proposed last winter, but in recent months, that's led to the campaign suggesting they'd create "safe havens" overseas for persecuted peoples of all religions—including Christians and Jews.

Earlier, in describing Trump’s immigration plan, including deporting 16M people, building a wall with Mexico, and creating a deportation force, Pence implied Trump’s remarks only referred to criminal immigrants. But of the 11M undocumented immigrants in the U.S., 180,000 were deported in  2014 after being convicted of a crime. Only about 73,000 inmates in state and federal prisons are undocumented immigrants.

It Takes Preparation for Candidates to Not Sound Rehearsed

"Did you work on that one a long time?" Pence zinged Kaine after the Democratic nominee described Donald Trump as overly eager to incite a nuclear war.

The audience laughed in response, which, is an indicator that something is actually breaking through given that the crowd was told at the beginning of the debate to keep quiet. Pence is coming across as far more of a natural speaker during this debate than Kaine.  He seems mostly at ease, while Kaine often sounds stilted. Ironically, though, Pence must have carefully prepared not to come off overly rehearsed, and had to have planned to make the case that Kaine is fake.

And on cue, Pence completely sidesteps a question about "homegrown" terrorism to talk about Syrian immigrants.

The Vice-Presidential Debate Has Its Own Rhythm

There’s a regular rhythm to this debate. Tim Kaine cites outrageous things Donald Trump has said or done. Mike Pence declines to respond, and instead talks about the problems that have festered on the Obama administration’s watch. Kaine doesn’t engage with the problems, but instead returns to Trump. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Kaine's 'Tricky Position' on Public Safety

Kaine is in a very tricky position answering a question of whether the U.S. is safer now than it was eight years ago. He cites a number of examples to argue that "in some ways," the U.S. is safer. But after terrorist-inspired attacks in San Bernadino, Orlando, and New York, Kaine can't say unequivocally that the U.S. is safer.

He pivots to arguing that regardless of the answer, Clinton is the better candidate, by virtue of her national-security experience, to keep the country safe in the future.

Tim Kaine has repeatedly—at least three times now—invoked Donald Trump’s remarks in which he referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and criminals.

And the most dad line of the night goes to Tim Kaine who accuses Mike Pence of "trying to fuzz up what Donald Trump has said."

"Senator, I'll work with you when you go back to the Senate." Oooh, burn, Mike Pence. At least Kaine chuckled.

Kaine's Most Potent Attack

Andrew Gombert / AP

Kaine's most effective moment so far is when he simply recites a litany of Trump's statements about Hispanics, women, African Americans, and other groups the GOP nominee has derided this year.

Pence, knowing he can't simply refute them, instead tries to counter by saying Clinton's "basket of deplorables" remark was a far greater insult to millions of Trump's supporters. But Kaine responds by noting Clinton partially walked back that statement, while noting Trump has never walked back any of his insults and jibes, which he takes the time to repeat again at length. Point to Kaine.

How Does Pence's Performance Play?

David Goldman / AP

Mike Pence hasn’t put a lot of substantive distance between himself and Donald Trump tonight. But when he talks about taxes, when he talks about policing, when he talks about immigration, he sounds thoughtful, calm, and often empathetic.  

It’s precisely the sort of delivery that usually marks a major-party nominee for national office. But it sharpens a question that has marked this race. If the Trump campaign is ultimately about the policies it has championed, then Pence is acting as a remarkably effective spokesman tonight. But what if the Trump campaign is ultimately about its style and tone—if its appeal is affective and personal, grounded in the willingness of its nominee to defy convention and denounce elites?

If that’s the case, perhaps Pence’s sober, serious performance will help draw college-educated white voters back home, into the Republican fold. But it also runs some risk of putting the emphasis on a series of policies which, on their own, tend not to be terribly popular. And if, stripped of bombast, they lose their appeal, Pence’s advocacy of these positions could have the opposite effect.

Trump shakes hands with border-patrol agents at an August rally in Texas.
Carlo Allegri / Reuters

Pence alludes to the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing agents, which endorsed Trump earlier this year. Pence appears to be on message. Trump also briefly cited the endorsement during the first general-election debate with Clinton. In doing so, the two seem to be touting their hardline stance on immigration and specifically, border security.

I wonder if any Donald Trump supporters will take pause hearing Mike Pence declare that it’s “nonsense” that they want to deport millions of people.

"If you want to have a society where people are respected and respect laws, you cannot have somebody at the top who demeans everybody that he talks about," Kaine said, adding: "I cannot believe that Governor Pence will defend the insult-driven campaign that Donald Trump has run."

"If you asked families in the inner city” as Pence suggested, I imagine they would prefer not to be accosted randomly by police. Also, the Republican view of inner cities appears to be about 15 years behind the times.

Rare Agreement on Community Policing

Kaine’s argument for community policing comes at a time when the nation is embroiled in what some call a crisis related to police shootings. His testimony of the changes community policing brought to Virginia, placing it among the 10 safest states, plays well in communities that feel over-policed and under-protected.

Pence’s comment that “police are the best of us” will not play as well in these same places. Recent data shows that following a publicized police shooting, calls to 911 fall precipitously, potentially making areas less safe.

Kaine's Mixed Criminal-Justice Record

Kaine is touting his record on crime as a Richmond city council member and mayor. But his record on criminal justice is somewhat controversial, as he was a vocal advocate for a program called Project Exile in his public service in the city.

That program automatically sent all gun offenders in the city to federal courts and tacked on 5-year mandatory minimum penalties for gun charges, and city police officials admitted that the program disproportionately targeted communities of color. His record is a reminder that mass incarceration has been trotted out as a law and order principle by members of both parties for decades.

Pence Called for Criminal-Justice Reform. Does Trump Want It, Too?

"We need criminal justice reform," Mike Pence just said. Does Donald Trump agree with him? He has not talked about this on the campaign trail, and one of his top surrogates, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, helped torpedo a bipartisan push for legislation on Capitol Hill. Trump’s refrain on the trail has not been “reform,” but “law and order.”

Mike Pence changes his tone, slowing the pace of his delivery, as the topic turns to law enforcement. He talks about his uncle. He talks about the importance of policing, including community policing. But then he pivots to decry “the badmouthing of the people who seize upon tragedy … to use a broad brush to accuse law enforcement of implicit bias or institutional racism.” And he attacks Hillary Clinton for doing exactly that.

A Rare Moment for Social Security

We haven't heard much debate about Social Security in this campaign, but Tim Kaine laid into Trump and Pence for supporting President George W. Bush's efforts to privatize the retirement system a decade ago. Kaine cited a book by Trump in which he referred to Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme" and correctly pointed out that Pence eagerly supported Bush's plan long after the president had abandoned it.

Pence didn't have much of a response other than to say that a Trump administration would honor the commitment to America's seniors. Trump as a candidate has not pushed entitlement reform and has criticized congressional Republicans like Speaker Paul Ryan who have.

“Gentlemen, the people at home cannot understand either one of you when you talk over each other,” Elaine Quijano tells the candidates. Roughly 30 minutes in and Kaine and Pence are consistently interrupting each other. Quijano has been assertive, but the candidates will stop doing so.

“He's built a business worth millions of dollars," Pence says. "How do you know that?" Kaine shot back. Doesn't seem like the most effect response when there are infinite other rejoinders available. This exchange points to the fact that Kaine would be better off holding back a bit instead of shooting off quick quips.

As expected, Pence has pounced on Bill Clinton's comments about Obamacare being "crazy" on the campaign trail. While there's always the possibility that his comments were just an off-the-cuff freestyle, they could have been part of a gambit for Hillary Clinton to pick up some swing state voters in places where the Obamacare exchanges aren't doing so hot, and where the broad analytics of Obamacare's coverage expansions just don't match up to real life, while also rolling out her plans to fix the health reform’s problems.

The problem with that approach?  Bill wasn’t very good at laying out Hillary Clinton’s plan to fix it, which opens the door for Republicans to latch on to his comments and drive a wedge between the Clintons and Barack Obama’s signature policy achievement.

Both Vice-Presidential Candidates Came Prepared

An artist prints t-shirts ahead of Tuesday’s debate.
Patrick Semansky / AP

This debate is not nearly as one-sided as the last week's in large part because both candidates clearly came prepared, both to defend their running mate and to attack their opponent.

Pence and Kaine each delivered effective cases for the Trump and Clinton economic plans, although Kaine has delivered a couple of flat and cleared canned zingers. The most recent was comparing Hillary Clinton as the "You're Hired" president versus Donald Trump as the "You're Fired" president. Both Clinton and Kaine have used that line before, and Pence called him on it.

Why Ask These Candidates About the Debt?

It’s baffling that the first economic question is about the national debt. In the eight years since the 2008 crash, it’s all but vanished as a potent political issue. Just 5 percent ranked it as the most important issue facing the federal government in recent Gallup surveys.

But listening to Mike Pence’s pious invocation of the need to address the debt is particularly surreal because the independent Tax Foundation—the Trump campaign’s preferred organization for scoring its tax plan—pegs its cost at about $3 trillion. And that doesn’t even grapple with the campaign’s spending plans. If the federal debt is a problem, it’s incredibly hard to see how the Trump/Pence ticket is the solution.

Tim Kaine, High-School Debate Champ

Julio Cortez / AP

See Tim Kaine madly pen scratching? See that eager debater’s face, which looks for all the world like he has to sit on his hands to keep from interrupting Pence? See that quick-off-the-starting-block launch into question responses?

Tim Kaine is listening to his opponent with the fire of a former high-school debater. And in fact, he is just that: When he was a student at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Missouri, he was a competitive champ and even perfected the art of jotting zinger notes on cards. More about that in this charming story by The Kansas City Star.

Fact-checking the Presidential Nominees' Truthfulness

“There's a reason people why question the trustworthiness of Hillary Clinton, and that's because they're paying attention," Mike Pence said. According to PolitiFact's scorecard, a full 71 percent of Donald Trump's statements rate as either "mostly false," "false," or "pants on fire." In comparison, only 27 percent of Clinton's statements rate in the same categories, per her PolitiFact scorecard.

This isn’t boring so much as it is an incomprehensible morass of cross-talk. Elaine Quijano is trying to keep them on track, but it’s tough.

Early on, it looks like Kaine is not going to shy away from interrupting Pence. That’s a risky strategy, since it can make a debater look rude. But Joe Biden used it to great effect in his debate against Paul Ryan four years ago, and perhaps Kaine wants to get a similar effect.

“Senator you and Hillary Clinton would know a lot about an insult driven campaign,” says Mike Pence, after Tim Kaine invokes Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric on the campaign trail.

In his opening remarks, Senator Tim Kaine mentioned Farmville’s role in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education court case. Farmville and Prince Edward County schools were the site of a walkout by Barbara Rose Johns, niece of civil-rights leader Vernon Johns, at R.B. Moton High School, then a segregated school with outdated facilities.

That walkout led to the Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County case, which was consolidated along with other school-segregation cases into Brown v. Board.

The Impeachment Factor in the Vice-Presidential Debate

Elaine Quijano couched the first question on "presidential leadership" on the remote possibility that tragedy would strike and thrust one of these men into the Oval Office. I would argue that this year, there's another, though still very remote, reason why either Mike Pence or Tim Kaine would become president: Impeachment.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two most unpopular major-party nominees in the history of polling, and they have engendered an enormous antipathy, even hatred, on the part of their opponents. Democrats and even some Republicans have argued that Trump would disregard the Constitution, while GOP delegates in Cleveland chanted of Clinton, "Lock Her Up." This is not to say that either will actually be impeached, but regardless of who wins, the calls from elected members of Congress to remove them from office could start very quickly. It's one more reason to pay attention to the running mates tonight.

Pence and Kaine's 'Awkward Task' Tonight

Andrew Gombert / AP

The task that Tim Kaine and Mike Pence have tonight is a bit awkward. They have to tell the audience about themselves, while constantly reminding the crowd that the race is all about their running mate, not them. Making sure to keep Clinton front and center, Kaine just introduced himself by recalling the way the Democratic nominee described his own bio. And yes, it did sound clunky.

"Hillary told me why she asked me to be her running mate," Kaine said, adding that Clinton said that "it's going to be about results. She said to me 'you've been a missionary, and a civil rights lawyer, a city councilman and mayor, a lieutenant governor and governor and now  a U.S. senator. I think you will help me figure out how to govern this nation.’"

Watch Out for Women

Tonight’s debate platform is littered with potential landmines related to Trump’s history with, and recent treatment of, women. The days after the presidential debate were saturated with round-the-clock coverage of Trump’s criticism of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. It will be interesting to see if Kaine puts Pence on the defensive about Trump’s behavior.

Tim Kaine said coming into the debate that the focus would be on Hillary Clinton. And in his opening remarks, he’s standing by that, quickly pivoting to the Democratic presidential nominee and her vision.

A Sartorial Update

David Goldman / AP

Mike Pence and Tim Kaine continue the well-established debate tradition of candidates wearing colors usually associated with the other party. Pence is wearing a royal blue tie while Kaine is wearing a shimmering red tie.

The CEO to Trump's Chairman?

Donald Trump has taken an unconventional view of the role of the vice presidency over the course of the campaign. As I wrote back in June, Trump seems to want to delegate much of the day-to-day decision making, conceiving of himself more as presiding officer than chief executive:

“He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn’t want to do,” Paul Manafort told the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman about the VP search back in May. “He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO.”

The first question, though, is more standard issue: How would these candidates step into the breach and serve as president if needed? It’s not a bad question, but it’s a conventional query for a decidedly unconventional campaign.

How Mike Pence Might Be Vulnerable to Questions About LGBT Rights

Mike Pence’s home state offers a good case study on one of the biggest policy debates that’s hardly being talked about this election cycle: whether Congress should pass a law making it illegal to discriminate against LGBT people in housing, hiring, or public accommodations. Currently, discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation is not explicitly prohibited by federal law, and it’s not prohibited in roughly half of states.

Indiana took a pass at creating a non-discrimination law earlier this year, but by February, the issue was effectively dead in the legislature. The previous spring, the state faced intense protests over a proposed religious-freedom law that opponents claimed would let business owners refuse to serve same-sex couples. The new LGBT protections could have been a corrective, but instead, self-described religious-freedom advocates and LGBT-rights proponents found themselves too much at odds. Pence captured this tension in a speech, emphasizing that “Hoosiers don’t tolerate discrimination against anybody” and “we are an open and welcoming state,” while adding that “I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers, or interferes with the constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service, or work.”

For Republican politicians, Pence’s experience is closer to the norm than Trump’s. The presidential nominee invited Caitlyn Jenner to use the bathroom in Trump Tower, defying the North Carolina legislators who passed H.B. 2 and Ted Cruz’s final push against LGBT rights on the campaign trail; he just hasn’t made this his issue. Pence, on the other hand, represents a more typical Republican position—while he’ll now nod to LGBT acceptance under intense political pressure, he’s also a defender of traditional marriage and styles himself as a religious-freedom advocate. LGBT issues are relevant for every candidate for office, but on this debate night, they’re even more relevant because of who’s on stage.

The Divisive Organization Behind Tonight's Debate

The heads of the Commission on Presidential Debates gave opening remarks ahead of the 9 p.m kickoff. One would think these individuals—whose organization has for three decades sponsored quadrennial debates—are, at worst, benign figures in American politics. After all, the debates provide a necessary tool for voters to assess the candidates, and commission leaders are integral to making them happen.

But these officials are divisive figures in some circles, specifically among third parties. When the commission was established by the two major parties back in the 1980s, one of its founders—who currently serves as a co-chair—suggested they wouldn’t “look with favor” on including third parties in general-election contests. As I reported in August, third-party candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein accuse the commission of deliberating excluding them in order to protect the major-party nominees. Ahead of the first presidential debate, Johnson and Stein tried to persuade the commission to get flexible with their qualifying rules and let them compete. But it didn’t work. There hasn’t been a third-party candidate present at a general-election debate since the early 1990s, and there isn’t a third-party veep on stage tonight.  

Hillary Clinton's Newest Surrogate: Al Gore

Doug Mills / AP

Al Gore and Hillary Clinton will never be BFFs, but the former vice president and presidential contender is about to hit the trail on her behalf, CNN reports. Gore’s mandate will reportedly be to speak to Millennial voters and focus on climate change. Whether Gore really has much sway with younger voters remains to be seen; after all, his popular-vote victory was 16 years ago now, and his term in the White House was before that.

Gore took his time backing Clinton, finally giving her his support on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, which he didn’t attend. (Hillary Clinton and Gore have beef that dates back to her husband Bill Clinton’s administration.) But in a year when many voters are not enthused about either of the major-party candidates, Gore can fill the role of Democratic Nominees Past, symbolically recalling the 2000 election and reminding errant or reluctant Democrats of what can happen if voters choose to support a third-party nominee instead.

The Dog-Whistle Appeal to Law and Order

Are appeals to law and order ever just appeals to law and order?

An uproar around a new attack video from the Republican National Committee against Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine certainly raises the specter of some old racist attacks, and continues an omnipresent conversation about bigotry in the Trump campaign. But in Kaine’s home state of Virginia, a place in the throes of confronting a legacy of criminal justice as a tool of Jim Crow, the emergence of veiled racist appeals in discussions about crime is especially salient right now. With tonight’s vice-presidential debate being held in the state, the racialization of law and order could be a lens through which we view each candidate’s positions on criminal justice.

The GOP attack ad shares some DNA with the original “Weekend Pass” and “Revolving Door” ads that George H.W. Bush used to crush Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988. Both advertisements are classic fear-mongering. “Weekend Pass” criticizes Dukakis’s decision as Massachusetts governor to grant weekend furlough passes to state inmates using the face of Willie Horton—a black man who was convicted of rape during a weekend furlough. The “Revolving Door” ad doesn’t feature Horton’s visage, but continues a law-and-order-style attack on Dukakis’s furlough decision by showing inmates walking through a revolving door in and out of prison.

The new Kaine ad, which has been billed—perhaps unwittingly—by Republicans themselves as a “Willie Horton-Style Attack,” is more along the lines of the “Revolving Door” ad, but still fits the mold of law-and-order-style fear-mongering. The commercial attacks Kaine’s record as a defense attorney and his intercession in the execution of an intellectually disabled man as Virginia governor. Ominous horror-movie strings play as a baritone voiceover declares that “he consistently protected the worst kind of people” and a gallery of violent men and a litany of their crimes play on the screen.

But even in featuring white offenders in its ominous warnings, the GOP’s own fusillade against Kaine on the eve of the debate still plays on the same broad racial fears of crime that Donald Trump has so adroitly used—for example, in attacks against immigrants and black protesters in Charlotte—as he has morphed into a Nixonian “candidate of law and order.” People are still more likely to perceive black males—even young black boys—as criminals than any other demographic, and since the dawn of our criminal-justice system, the subtext of just what a criminal is supposed to look like has been explicitly married to the discriminatory politics of mass incarceration. Stop and frisk is just one recent example.

That subtext of racial criminality has been underscored in recent debates over felony disenfranchisement in Virginia, where Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe recently individually granted voting rights to over 13,000 people with felonies. That happened after Republicans successfully sued to block a blanket executive order granting the franchise to all people in the state with felonies. McAuliffe’s decision strikes back against a Virginia Jim Crow constitutional amendment passed in 1902, where criminalization of black people and felony disenfranchisement were envisioned as complementary tools to maintain white power. Then-senator Carter Glass used the dog whistle effectively and understood its political power.

The thing about these kinds of subtle appeals to racialized crime is that they tend to be effective—or at least politicians believe they are. The Obama administration has feared that the president’s moves toward issuing clemency even for nonviolent offenders open him up to Willie Horton-style attacks, a worry that Trump himself has lived up to in referencing “bad dudes” who walk free from federal prisons. And in Virginia, where McAuliffe has been subject to attacks about allowing “criminals who have committed even the most heinous violent crimes” to vote, there is certainly some ammunition for Pence against McAuliffe’s forerunner tonight, should he choose to use it. That decision would certainly not be out of step in a campaign season where the dog whistle blows just about every day.

The Vice-Presidential Debate Is a Battle of Cafeteria Catholics

David Goldman / AP

Technically, Mike Pence no longer describes himself as a Catholic—he’s “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” The GOP vice-presidential nominee shares something with his opponent Tim Kaine, though: Both men were raised in the Church in devout families, and both show why it’s nearly impossible for Catholic politicians to follow all the teachings of the Church while also participating in the Republican or Democratic parties. As I wrote last month, American politics, along with various factors like assimilation and partisanship in the Church, have forced virtually all Catholic politicians to become “cafeteria Catholics.”

Kaine and Pence share something else, too: Both men theoretically provide Christian credibility to campaigns that haven’t been overtly religious. Pence has been known to fight for religious freedom for Christian vendors who are opposed to gay marriage and for restrictions on abortions based on gender and disability—both strong resume lines for a veep hoping to appeal to conservative Republicans. Kaine, on the other hand, openly talks about his work with the Jesuits in Honduras during law school and isn’t afraid of a Bible-verse smackdown. He provides a consistent religious voice for the Democrats, whereas Clinton’s is only occasional.

It’s not likely that the moderator, Elaine Quijano, will ask the vice-presidential candidates a question about faith or the religious thinking behind some of their policy positions (see: poverty, refugee resettlement, abortion, the death penalty …). But if she did, the results would be fascinating—especially with Pence, who has been somewhat reticent to discuss his faith publicly on the campaign trail.

The GOP Declares Pence the Debate Winner—Before It Actually Starts

The debate hasn’t started yet, but the GOP has already declared Mike Pence the winner.

It looks like someone hit publish a bit too early on a post on that appears to have been intended to go up after the debate. It’s titled “Who Won the Vice Presidential Debate” and declares that, well, Trump’s running mate did. “Americans from all across the country tuned in to watch the one and only Vice Presidential debate,” the post reads. “During the debate we helped fact check and monitor the conversation in real time @GOP. The consensus was clear after the dust settled, Mike Pence was the clear winner of the debate.”

Because the page was almost immediately deleted, here’s a screenshot for posterity’s sake:

And it looks like the declaration of a Pence victory wasn't the only thing the GOP published too early. Here are two other posts that showed up on the site ahead of the 9 p.m. showdown:

Donald Trump, Pundit?

Evan Vucci / AP

You didn’t think Donald Trump was going to let Mike Pence get all the attention tonight, did you?

Trump has been reluctant to give up the spotlight throughout his campaign for the presidency, and that will continue on Tuesday night, as the Republican nominee is pledging to “live tweet” the vice-presidential debate.

It’s not clear whether this will be Android-phone Trump in all of his wake-up-at-3-a.m.-and-grab-the-phone glory, or whether this will be more standard “fact-checking” from a campaign staffer in Trump’s name (a.k.a. iPhone Trump). But this continues a pattern of Trump injecting himself into moments where his less-exciting running mate would otherwise be the center of attention. Trump appeared onstage to embrace Pence after he accepted the vice-presidential nomination in Cleveland. And when Trump introduced the Indiana governor as his running mate, he memorably devoted much of the half-hour speech to himself. (“Back to Mike Pence,” he said at one point.)

Trump’s Twitter activity on Tuesday night might be appropriate, however. Like so much of this presidential race, the debate between Pence and Tim Kaine is expected to focus mostly on him.

Kaine and Pence Do Their Homework

Jim Cole / AP

Tim Kaine watched the first 2016 general-election debate in jeans and tennis shoes last week.

“I wish I could actually hang and watch it with you, but I’m actually doing homework tonight,” Kaine told a debate watch party in Orlando. “I have to go sit down and get in the zone and with a yellow pad, you know, take a million notes.”

The Virginia senator has been preparing to face Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence, the current governor of Indiana. Tuesday night is the only vice-presidential debate of the cycle, and one of the few opportunities for the two to introduce themselves to a national audience before Election Day—so they might as well practice, right?

GOP standard-bearer Donald Trump barely rehearsed for the presidential debate, which polls showed he lost decisively to Hillary Clinton. Trump’s campaign advisers intend to alter his approach ahead of the next presidential debate. But they didn’t have to persuade Pence to do debate prep. “I am doing a little preparation for it. And a little bit more traditional than my running mate,” Pence told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Just last week, Pence met with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who was Pence’s stand-in for Kaine, to get ready for the debate. ABC reports that Pence’s preparation goes even further back: “According to a Pence aide, Pence has been preparing for the debate ‘since the night he received the call from Mr. Trump.’” On Tuesday, Pence will likely be asked to vouch for his candidate, who has been embroiled in controversy since announcing his campaign, while also defending his own record.

Kaine, too, will have to defend Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Just like his running mate prior to the first presidential debate, Kaine has been focused on preparations. Robert Barnett, a D.C. lawyer and agent, pretended to be Pence during Kaine’s debate practice.

“It’s a different kind of a debate for me because I have done debates where it’s at the end of it, ‘please vote for Tim Kaine,’” he told reporters. “If I talk too much about Tim Kaine during my debate I’m wasting my time. It would not be a good way to use of my time and it is about two visions for the country.”

Both candidates are faced with the same task—to defend, and speak for, their running mates and their visions. The question is: Will practice make perfect?

Tim Kaine Will Have to Be the Latino Whisperer

Among the feats Tim Kaine will have to pull off during tonight’s vice-presidential debate will be using his unofficial role as the Democrats’ Latino whisperer to signal to 27 million Latino voters that the Democratic ticket knows and cares more about them than their Republican counterparts do.

As a senator and former governor of Virginia, where the debate is being held, Kaine has had a chance to practice his message with a diverse and growing population of Latinos. Virginia has the 15th largest Latino population in the country, with 732,000 Latino residents. Overall, these Virginians constitute 9 percent of state residents, including 277,000 eligible voters, according to Pew Research Center. And even though they represent only 5 percent of registered voters in the state, this swath of the “sleeping giant” that is the national Latino vote could be significant.

More importantly, Latinos in Virginia may be more representative of the diversity of their ethnic group—the largest in the country—than those most Democratic presidential campaigns have historically targeted: lower-class immigrants.

Almost half of Latino voters in Virginia are millennials (44 percent), that elusive demographic Democrats desperately need to win in November. They were either born Americans (68.1 percent) or became naturalized citizens (38.9), according to Pew. They are more educated than the average American, with 64 percent possessing a two-year degree, some college, or a four-year degree. (Nationally, 59 percent of Americans have some college or some sort of degree.) Latino voters in Virginia also represent multiple groups: Mexicans (20 percent), Puerto Ricans (22 percent), Salvadorans (15 percent), and still others. They are also more affluent than the average Latino and average Virginian, with over 59 percent of households earning $75,000 or more annually. By contrast, the average Virginian household income is $64,000, and the average U.S. household income is $52,000.

In short, the candidates’ message tonight has to be about far more than immigration. With Virginia still firmly in the purple column, both parties would do well to bring a sophisticated message of economic and social inclusion, mutual financial prosperity, and future possibilities based on core American values. The emerging Latino voter will likely not settle for less than a fully engaged presidential ticket that values her culture and its contribution.

What Will Bill Weld and Ajamu Baraka Do Tonight?

John Raoux / AP

Libertarian vice-presidential nominee Bill Weld and Green Party veep pick Ajamu Baraka will not be standing on the main stage for tonight’s debate. But they’re going to try to get their message out all the same.

Baraka is slated to appear on the left-leaning news program Democracy Now. According to the show’s website, Democracy Now will air the vice-presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence and “‘expand’ the debate by giving third-party candidates a chance to respond in real time to the same questions.” The website notes that “Baraka has already agreed to participate” and an invitation has been extended to Weld. A public schedule sent out for Weld earlier in the week, however, indicated that he’d be watching the debate and live-tweeting from Atlanta, Georgia. (A campaign spokesperson confirmed that Weld will be tweeting, and “no, he won’t be appearing on Democracy Now.”)

Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, the Libertarian and Green Party’s respective presidential nominees, did not qualify for the first presidential debate because they failed to meet the 15 percent polling threshold set by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Not making the debates makes it even more unlikely that either campaign will be able to reach within striking distance of either major-party candidate. Of course, the odds are always steep for third-party campaigns, so neither Johnson nor Stein is likely to capitulate as a result.

Longwood University Is Ready for Its Close-Up

Steve Helber / AP

It's safe to say that Longwood University is pretty thrilled to be hosting tonight's first and only vice-presidential debate.

The Twitter account for the 177-year-old Virginia institution has been all aflutter the past few days, chronicling its president's news appearances, its auditorium's fancy debate trappings, and a student ticket raffle for the main event. In the last year, since administrators learned they'd beat out dozens of other campuses to play host, university buildings have seen a TV-friendly facelift, and the school has held multiple events to get students pumped up. It’s even created or reoriented classes to focus on the debate, as my colleague Emily DeRuy has reported.

This excitement is surely, at least in part, sincere: The small liberal-arts university—located in Farmville, Virginia, population 8,000—gets to participate in American history in the making. If one of the candidates makes a major gaffe, for example, Longwood will long be noted as the place where it happened. If a future news report were to read, “Mike Pence decided to quit the Trump campaign in the middle of the vice-presidential debate at Longwood University in Virginia,” history would remember the first part of the sentence, while Longwood would cheer the latter.

But all this hype is also strategic: an effort on the part of the university to raise its profile and make money. The Washingtonian reports:

For a little-known school, a debate isn’t just a chance to see celebs. It’s a way to put yourself on the map—with all that means for enrollment and the bottom line. Within 24 hours [of learning it would host], Longwood launched a website and held a campus rally. ... The school has since sent debate-themed goodie bags to potential students and plastered ads on Capital Bikeshare depots in DC.

Is the spotlight helping? So far, says [President W. Taylor] Reveley, Longwood has gotten contributions from about a thousand more donors than it had at this point last year. [Vice President Victoria] Kindon is planning a survey for after the debate to gauge shifts in the university’s reputation and alumni satisfaction.

Longwood students, who number around 5,000, have volunteered in droves to help with logistics. School pride aside, this makes sense: The better their school looks, the better they look. “It’s just really exciting because we’re starting to see on Fox and CNN and other channels ‘Longwood University,’” a student-government member told a Richmond CBS affiliate. “We’re very excited to see our name getting out to the whole world.”

Pence And Kaine Want You To Think They're Boring

The 2016 vice-presidential schtick is that both candidates are lame.

Tim Kaine cheerfully admitted he’s “boring” on Meet the Press. “But you know, ‘boring’ is the fastest growing demographic in this country,” he added, an observation equal parts saccharine and confusing. Mike Pence is equally self-effacing, calling himself a “B-list Republican” on the campaign trail. The two men, who will meet at Longwood University in Virginia to debate on Tuesday night, have each styled themselves in the least offensive way possible, perhaps hoping to invite only dad jokes or shrugs in a year of polarizing candidates.

This, of course, is political fiction. While Kaine and Pence might not have profiles to rival their presidential counterparts, both have spent time in national offices: Kaine is a United States senator and the former chair of the Democratic National Committee, having previously served as Virginia’s governor and the mayor of Richmond. Pence served in Congress from 2000 to 2013, and is currently the governor of Indiana. Each man has embraced his vice-presidential duties and become a booster and money-raiser for his ticket, careful not to steal the show like certain others who have taken on that role. And yet, Kaine and Pence have both overseen distinctive policy approaches in their states––at times conflicting with the platforms of the nominees they’re now supporting.

When Kaine was picked to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket, he was widely considered a “safe” choice: He hails from a swing state, he’s a centrist Democrat, and his background is free of Clinton- or Trump-style scandal. But for those farther left in the Democratic Party, the choice was less than ideal: Kaine has been a strong supporter of free trade, accusing advocates of protectionism of having a “loser’s mentality,” along with interventionist foreign policy––similar stances to Clinton’s, but ones she has tried to underplay on the campaign trail. Kaine, a lifelong Catholic, also has a streak of social conservatism: During his time in office, he’s moved to embrace pro-choice positions, but still doesn’t support the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funding to pay for abortions. The GOP even went to the trouble of compiling a list of all the ways Tim Kaine is “Sanders’s Backers’ Nightmare” before he was nominated this summer. These issues will make for particularly good debate fodder, especially for progressives choosing between Clinton/Kaine and, for instance, Jill Stein.

Pence, on the other hand, was presumably picked to reassure conservative Republicans that Donald Trump would be their man. He’s well-known in Indiana for his support for a religious-liberty bill that brought national attention––and protests––last year. He signed legislation this spring that banned abortions on the basis of genetic abnormality and mandated funerals or cremations for fetuses. He’s also supported other conservative causes, like charters and vouchers, and opposed Common Core; he was strongly pro-free trade and has advocated for increased national military spending. On a few issues, though, he has gotten into conflict with Trump; in December, for example, he criticized calls for a ban on Muslim immigration as “offensive and unconstitutional,” a comment clearly aimed the man who is now his running mate. Questions about immigration and perceived bigotry could prove particularly revealing on Tuesday night, especially as Pence tries to fulfill his role as Trump’s apologist.

The two vice-presidential candidates are unlikely to draw the record-breaking 84 million estimated viewers who tuned in for the first presidential debate, but their face-off is important.

One of these men will play back-up to the next president, providing support on policy and preparing to step into the role of commander-in-chief if anything bad were to happen. Heck, if Pence cut a deal with Trump anything close to the one reportedly offered to Ohio Governor John Kasich in May, he could be the one “in charge of domestic and foreign policy” come January.

If nothing else, the two men might offer some clarity on their respective platforms; they’ll probably spend more debate time on policy than name-calling, unlike their presidential peers. After all, the story goes, Kaine and Pence are just two nice guys. We’ll see if they live up to that reputation––the debate, along with our team’s regular live blog, will kick off at 9 p.m. ET.