Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was the calmer, more polished performer in the vice presidential crosstalk fest debate with Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, whose snappish, caffeinated interruptions were likely off-putting to independent-minded viewers.
But the overly-aggressive Kaine fired off Actual Facts about Donald Trump’s outrages which Pence never defended. Worse, Pence denied that either Trump or he had ever said things that are fully documented. On video.
Amid all the talk about Syria, nuclear weapons, taxes, immigration and more, only one issue in the debate spoke to a group of voters that is in play – suburban women – who heard Kaine ask why Trump and Pence cannot trust women to make their own choice on abortion and Pence reply that the right to life cannot be violated. Period.
What women want This is what we at Calbuzz call a threshold issue: for many women voters, regardless of party affiliation, once a candidate tells them they cannot decide for themselves whether they can control their own bodies, they don’t even hear what the candidate says about Syria, nuclear weapons, taxes or immigration.
If anything “moved the needle,” as the TV pundits like to say, it will be what suburban women in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida and North Carolina heard about choice: Clinton and Kaine trust women; Trump and Pence don’t.
Which is why Clinton, right after the debate, tweeted out: “We support Roe v Wade. We support the constitutional right of American women to make their own decision about pregnancy.”
Little of the debate will long be remembered. Vice presidential debates don’t do much to affect the vote for president. Even when Lloyd Bentsen smacked down Dan Quayle, telling him “You’re no Jack Kennedy,” he and his running mate, Michael Dukakis were defeated by George H.W. Bush and Quayle.
So while Pence made the smoother, more stylish TV performance and did himself a lot of good with the conservative – and especially evangelical – base, Kaine’s unanswered challenge to him to defend Trump’s attacks on Miss Universe, on Mexicans, on a federal judge, on women, on the disabled, on John McCain, and others will gnaw at Trump and Pence in the days to come.
For us, this was the most crucial exchange in the debate – as far as affecting voters. It began with a discussion of how religion affects the candidates’ thinking and decisions as public officials:
KAINE: I try to practice my religion in a devout way and follow the teachings of my church and my personal life. But I do not believe in this nation — a first amendment nation where we do not raise any religion over the other and we allow people to worship as they please — that the doctrines of any one religion should be mandated for everyone.
For me the hardest struggle in my faith life was the Catholic Church is against the death penalty and so I… was governor of a state — the state law said there was death penalty for crimes that the jury determined to be heinous. So I had to grapple with that. When I was running for governor — of attacked pretty strongly because my position on the death penalty.
But I looked to the voters of Virginia and I said look is my religion — I’m not going to change my religious practice to get one vote, but I know how to take an oath to uphold the law, and if you elect me I will uphold law. And I was elected and I did.
PENCE: (M)y Christian faith became real for me when I made a personal decision for Christ when I was a freshman in college. And I have tried to live that out — every day of my life since. With my wife at my side, we have followed a calling into public service where we have tried to keep faith with the values that we cherish.
And with regard to when I struggle, I appreciate and I have a great deal of respect for the senator and his sincere faith. I truly do. But for me, I would tell you — the sanctity of life proceeds out of the belief that ancient principle where God says before you were formed in the womb I knew you, and so for my first time in public life, I sought to stand with great compassion for the sanctity of life.
The state of Indiana is also — sought to make sure we expand alternatives and healthcare counseling for women — non- abortion alternatives. I’m also pleased with the fact we are well on our way in Indiana to becoming most pro- adoption state in America. I think you’ll be pro-life you should be pro- adoption. But what I cannot understand is with Hillary Clinton and now the senator at her side — his — to support a practice like partial birth abortion — and to hold to the view — I know Senator you hold pro-life views personally, but the very idea that a child that is almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them is just something to me. I cannot have conscious about a party that supports that. And you have historically opposed taxpayer funding of abortion — but Clinton wants to repeal the long-standing provision in the law where we said we would not use taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. So for me, my faith informs my life. I tried to spend time on my knees every day. But it all for me begins with cherishing the dignity the worth the value of every human life.
KAINE: This is a fundamental question. Hillary and I are both people out of religious backgrounds — her Methodist church experience was formative for her as a public servant. But we really feel like you should live fully and with enthusiasm with the commands of your faith — but it is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everybody else.
So let’s talk about abortion and choice. Let’s talk about that. We support Roe versus Wade. We support the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience, their own support of a partner or their own minister, but make their own decision about pregnancy. That is something we trust American women to do. And we do not think that women should be punished as Donald Trump said they should be for making the decision to have an abortion.
The Governor wants to repeal Roe versus Wade. He said he wants to put it on the ash heap of history, and our young people in the audience were not even born when this was decided. This is pretty important: before Roe versus Wade states could pass criminal laws to do just that — to punish women if they made the choice to terminate a pregnancy. I think you should live your moral values but the last thing the very last thing that the government should do is have laws that would punish women who make reproductive choices. And that is the fundamental difference between a Clinton/Kaine ticket and a Trump/Pence ticket.
“Ronald Reagan said something really interesting about nuclear proliferation back in the 1980s,” Kaine said. “He said the problem with nuclear proliferation is that some fool or maniac could trigger a catastrophic event. And I think that’s who Governor Pence’s running mate is. Exactly who President Reagan warned us about. ”
That was a low blow, Pence replied with disgust, clearly not happy that Kaine had called his running mate a maniac.
Hey, if the shoe fits . . .
Some random afterthoughts While Calbuzz (and other analysts) thought Pence looked better in the debate in terms of his demeanor, a CNN focus group overwhelmingly thought Kaine won the debate.
Maybe, in part, that was because Pence damn near broke the internet when he accused Kaine of “whiping out that Mexican thing again.”
Or maybe it was because, as Vox observed, Pence never answered at least seven charges against Trump that Kaine accurately cited including his not paying taxes, fat shaming Alicia Machado (the former Miss Universe), birtherism, denigrating John McCain and urging the spread of nuclear weapons.