I look forward to watching the Vice Presidential Debate tonight, though I don't expect it to be terribly meaningful. That isn't to say it will be uninteresting. In fact, I shake my head at the comments beforehand talking about how boring it will be between two boring candidates. Honestly, after a world of Donald Trump, the Barnum & Bailey Circus would look boring. And I think that even an actual boring debate would be a salve to the wounded soul.
But I don't think it will be boring. Nor do I think the candidates are "boring." Mike Pence is one of the more controversial governors. And yes, while Tim Kaine is a low-key guy, he's personable, and thoughtful. And both have strong missions tonight.
I suspect Kaine's mission is to make Pence not just defend Donald Trump, but the disastrous out-of-control week of Trump debacles, following a disastrous, out-of-control debate. And Pence's mission is to get the attention off Trump and attack Hillary Clinton. And will do his best to attack hard, most particularly on the two issues Trump let slide in his debate -- The Emails (tm) and the Clinton Foundation.
There's a problem here for the Republicans, though. Tim Kaine is not Hillary Clinton. He doesn't have to give long answers and stay on the defensive. He is not expected to have deep insight into the inner-workings of the Clinton Foundation, nor decisions made about emails. It wasn't his emails, nor his foundation. So, there's only so much he can be attacked for and put on the defensive for. As a result, he can probably handle answers that say basically, "You can rant all you want, but there's nothing there. The FBI investigated the emails and said there was nothing to indict, and there's absolutely no evidence of any wrong-doing with the Clinton Foundation, which is actually one of the most admired in the world, saving many thousands of lives." And then just leave it at that, and move on. But actually, he probably wouldn't move on just yet, and instead would add, "But okay, if you want to talk about problems with foundations, let's. Let's take a look at -- " and then tear into all the revelations of wrongdoing with the Trump Foundation, including it just having been de-certified.
There's one other challenge for Republicans. Most people don't tend to care much about what the Vice Presidential candidate's backgrounds are. And there isn't all that much "dirt" to go on with Tim Kaine, despite being a U.S. Senator and former governor. His most controversial issues are that his fought off the NRA, which the far right hates -- but most everyone else supports. And also that he was a defense attorney who, among other things, defended accused murderers. I suspect that he's got his defense down for that. And there's one supposed "Willie Horton" moment that Republicans have tried to make a deal of, that he tried to transfer a convicted murderer back to his own in Germany, though it didn't get completed when his successor scuttled the plan. But Kaine wasn't releasing the convict, just sending him home, where there was an agreement to serve out his term in prison.
But Mike Pence is another matter. He does have a troubling record as governor of Indiana, most notably his support of the Religious Freedom Law that was discriminatory to so many beliefs and lifestyles that the state faced a crisis as business threatened to pull out of Indiana. Ultimately, Pence had to backtrack and reverse the law from taking effect. He also has a very back track record on voter suppression and has become a bit of a religious zealot. So, not only is there ground for Tim Kaine to make him defensive, but enough even for there to be questions from the moderator.
And there's one other "problem" here for Republicans. While I don't care much at all for Mike Pence, I don't believe he remotely has it to be a sociopathic liar like Donald Trump, and won't by nature just lie all night. Which means Tim Kaine can bring up factual issues that Trump has repeatedly lied about all night, and have Pence fight to find an answer.
In the end, because of all this, there will likely be more focus on actual policy. And as much as Trump likes to "say" that Secretary Clinton has no policies, the reality is otherwise. And Trump's are deeply lacking, based more on Secret Plans, "What have you got to lose?" and "I'll hire the very best people". (Like, apparently, Paul Manafort, Corey Lewandowski and Stephen Bannon.)
Not that any of this will be deeply problematic to the Trump campaign. But when your ship is seen to be steered by an out-of-control captain, and you're supposed to be the steady one and show the world all is well, the last thing you need is for voters to think it's completely rudderless.
Ultimately, I don't think the needle will shift much after tonight -- though that's bad for the Trump campaign, since polls show they are falling solidly behind. And in the end, everyone knows the Republican campaign is about Trump, all Trump, only Trump. Not Mike Pence. So, even if he "wins" the debate, it won't have much impact. On the other hand, I think the only way the needle can shift after tonight is in the wrong direction, if the steady support of Pence that will keep Trump manageable (which I'm sure few people expect...) seems to be empty. So, the risk is on them.
We'll see. But mainly, "normal" will be good. And a welcome relief.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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