Much of the discussion of last night’s vice presidential debate has rightly focused on how Republican Mike Pence was unable to make amends for Donald Trump’s history. But the media also ought to square with a parallel reality: Tim Kaine also had to evade the facts of his running mate’s record.
When Pence brought up Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment, Kaine found himself in the same situation as did Pence when Trump’s behavior came up — namely, he had to defend the indefensible. He was forced to admit Clinton was wrong to call so many voters deplorable, and tried to move quickly back to the topic of Trump. This pattern repeated itself as Pence brought up the facts of Clinton’s record, and it is one of the reasons he won the debate handily.
Asked why Trump was playing footsie with Vladimir Putin, Pence made the point that the leadership of Obama and Clinton has led to the strong position in which Russia now finds itself. Responding, Kaine stood up for his running mate’s record, saying, “Hillary Clinton knows exactly who this guy [Putin] is. John McCain said, I look in his eyes and I see KGB. And Hillary kind of has that same feeling.” Or, put another way, Kaine suggested that Clinton can be trusted because she has finally cottoned on to what the GOP candidate was saying in 2008. Because he couldn’t hang his hat on Clinton’s record, Kaine was forced to argue that his running mate may do a better job than she has thus far if she’s elected president.
Pence also exposed Kaine’s hypocrisy on abortion by bringing up Clinton’s devotion to ending the Hyde amendment. Pence said, “I have appreciated the fact that you’ve supported the Hyde amendment, which bans the use of taxpayer funding for abortion, in the past, but that’s not Hillary Clinton’s view.” Parrying, Kaine defended his running-mate’s pro-abortion activism by asking a question: “Governor, why don’t you trust women to make this choice for themselves? We can encourage people to support life. Of course we can.” But what more can government officials do to “encourage” something than to pay for it? By supporting its funding by taxpayers, Hillary Clinton is encouraging abortion, explicitly, and in order to square that circle, Kaine had to dodge the issue completely.
Kaine also embarrassed himself when he asserted that the Iran nuclear deal “stopped the Iranian nuclear weapons program.” Defending the legacy of Obama-Clinton foreign policy is an impossible task, and it forced Kaine to lie about yet another failure that Pence was able to pin on the Democrats.
Pence’s defenses of Trump were weak because so many criticisms of the Republican nominee are valid. But two things can be true at once, and that Trump is a liability does not mean that Hillary Clinton’s is an angel. Just like America, both vice presidential candidates could use a better leader at the top of their tickets.