The VP debate is usually a snoozer where white dudes exchange talking points about the top of the ticket. Kaine needs to make it white dudes talking about how Mike Pence’s vision of America is equally as scary as Trump’s.
Tonight’s debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence is widely anticipated to be one of the least-anticipated events in human history. The rap here is that these are two pretty bland, pretty boring dudes who say expected things in an expected manner. And Veep debates rarely matter. Except when Joe Biden made Paul Ryan look like the shallow, mean-spirited dweeb that he really was, and plugged some more-imaginary-than-real holes the President created in his first debate, these rarely make anything but the most perfunctory headlines.
The only thing they are generally good it is having someone new defend their candidate and attack the other. The Veeps are surrogates, for the most part, and at most give some more weight to well-versed talking points. The only time that’s not the case is when the person at the top of the ticket is seen as wobbly, and so they want to find out of there is a grown-up helping them. That’s what happened at the 2000 debate, when Joe Liberman was so excited to prove his centrist bona fides that he treated Dick Cheney like reasonable opponent rather than the terrifying human copperhead snake he really was.
So that’s what sort of what is going to happen here. Which is why rather than make this debate about Trump, Kaine has to make it all about Pence.
That’s usually not what happens at a VP debate, I know. But two things. One, after the first debate, most people have made up their mind on Trump. And anyway, the man himself will do enough damage to his own mudslide of a campaign. But more so to expose Pence. As Mark Joseph Stern points out, Mike Pence is very good at seeming bland as a way to hide his lunatic right-wing beliefs. He hates gays, like, a lot. Way more than the vast majority of people in his party. He’s an inveterate theocrat who rejects climate change and loves pollution. His economic ideas are to the right of Reagan and he is himself a creepy authoritarian. He’s also dumb as a post, and unable to discuss his ideology without stammering, knowing that the vast majority of people in this country would hate it.
So Kaine can’t let him come across as a reasonable conservative who might be able to keep Trump in line. One, believing that is, in and of itself, a form of insanity. Trump only values the advice of his own moth-filled brain and maybe that of his capid children. He won’t listen to Pence. But Kaine needs to show that it would be more scary to leave anything to such a hard-right culture warrior, a man for whom compassion stops at the exit to the revivalist tent. People shouldn’t see him and think, well maybe Trump won’t be so bad. They need to see Pence and realize that things can always get worse.