I know a lot of people did not put much stock in the VP debate. But I looked at it from the vantage point that one of these guys — Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democrat, or Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the Republican — could end up becoming president one day.
That could happen if their president died on the job sometime over the next four years. Donald Trump, 70, and Hillary Clinton, 69, would be among the oldest people ever elected to the office. President Ronald Reagan began his presidency at age 69 and completed it at age 77.
The average U.S. life expectancy is 78, and not everybody gets there. Some get there but suffer debilitating and incapacitating illness years earlier. At the end of a term, Clinton would be 73 and Trump 74. And this is kind of a stressful job.
Kaine or Pence could rise to the top job because their president resigned, abdicated the office or was removed because of some controversy. And there is another way: For both Kaine and Pence, the debate Tuesday was their political, presidential debut. They could leverage their exposure some day and find themselves at the top of the ticket.
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Though it is true their No. 1 job was to defend their camp and attack the people in the other one, it was also one of the only other times you will see a VP candidate under much pressure. It is difficult to measure people during a 90-minute debate — but you do get a sense. I looked for evidence of their demeanor and knowledge. I looked for things they did that hinted they might have the stuff to be trusted as commander in chief.
Kaine seemed to be channeling Trump: aggressively interrupting, at times being condescending and smug. It is as if his memory chip for Trump indiscretions was so overloaded he was unable to pace himself. The litany of Trump sins was blurted out in bursts viewers could not hear clearly, making their eyes glaze over (mine did).
Pence had the awful assignment of Trump apologist. He smartly cherry-picked the charges against his running mate, ignored most, massaged a few and fired back with attacks on Clinton. All along, he kept his poise.
Between dodging Donald bombs and offering measured responses to a select few, he pivoted nicely off of the the topic of the Obama administration’s so-called “Russian Reset,” a 2009 overture to improve relations with Russia that also involved Clinton.
Pence looked straight into the camera when discussing the ineffectiveness of present Syrian policy. He discussed a need for safe zones and said the provocations of Russia needed to be met with strength. We can debate the merits of the ideas, but he exhibited a commander-in-chief tone: “We have got to begin to lead into this with strong, broad shoulders.” Pence was far from perfect, but I think the lasting impression earned him a P for Poise and Presidential.
It wasn’t until Kaine settled down in the fourth quarter that he took a breath and stopped reciting, and started listening to the questions and bringing his experience to the answers. His account of his struggles about carrying out Virginia’s death penalty law was revealing (“I took an oath to uphold the law.”) Both men were good when discussing criminal reforms and community policing.
I think Kaine made strong points as the two men discussed their faith and how they applied it to the thorny topic of choice regarding abortion. Though their positions were as far away as the East is from the West, they defended their points of view.
Pence took best advantage of his 90-minute opportunity. I am certain more than a few people wondered whether he was the better of the candidates the GOP is offering to voters.