It’s easy to discount tonight’s debate between Mike Pence and Tim Kaine as little more than a sideshow, done simply to satisfy the broadcasters. Whilst that may be true in previous election cycles, 2016 unsurprisingly is a unique election year.
Indiana governor and Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence and Hillary Clinton’s VP pick, Virginia senator Tim Kaine are themselves not particularly unique politicians but their bosses certainly are and precisely because of that, their debate tonight matters. Eight days ago, more than 80 million people tuned in to watch the first Presidential debate between Trump and Clinton. One thing that can be sure tonight is that lots less will watch the Pence/Kaine showdown. But the scale to which this debate actually matters could well exceed the debate of eight days ago.
With so much of the last debate focusing on personal insults and personality differences, tonight presents an opportunity to actually hear a debate about the differences in policy between the two camps and perhaps more interestingly the disagreements that may exist in the camps themselves. For example Tim Kaine has previously expressed strong support and enthusiasm for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), something both Clinton and Trump oppose.
Mike Pence’s job in this respect seems much more daunting. He is not only applying for the job of Vice-President of the United States, he is and has to persuade million of Americans that Donald Trump would make a good President, just as Kaine must do for Clinton. Pence though will at some point have to start cheerleading Donald Trump against a backdrop of negative headlines, outrageous and offensive remarks and accusations of sexism, racism and not paying his taxes.
Pence is not Trump, he cant just waft these issues off as mainstream media bias like Trump does, Trump can and has got away with that. Pence will have to offer something more concrete if he is to protect his boss’ fledgling campaign.
One thing is for sure however, this is no normal VP debate, it almost certainly won’t affect the outcome of the election itself but it could very well set a narrative in one candidates favour. A good performance from either one could ensure their candidate is seen in a better light than before, something neither Clinton or Trump are now. These two men could just tip the scales in favour of their boss, and in an election as tight as this, that could make all the difference.