When the presidential nominees are as well-known — and polarizing — as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are, it makes sense that they’d get most of the attention. The choice is stark, and virtually everyone in the country is certain to have an opinion on both figures. Still, while the nation is appropriately focused on the top of the tickets, we aren’t merely choosing a president on November 8. We’re also choosing a vice president.
Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) have telegraphed that they would cultivate a relationship that resembles the candid interactions between President Obama and Vice President Biden. There are also indications that Donald Trump’s running mate, Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), will have a powerful role. After all, it has been reported that Donald Trump attempted to convince Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) to join the ticket by offering him “control over domestic and foreign policy.”
Moreover, during the VP selection process, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort publicly stated that Trump “needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn’t want to do.” On account of Trump’s disinterest in many of the basic responsibilities of being President, Vice President Pence would have leeway to take them over. Therefore, we are obligated to give particular scrutiny to Pence’s record.
And, of course, there is the most basic role of the vice presidency — taking over in the event of a vacancy. Disregard the silly conspiracies about Hillary’s health, for a moment. It is still true that the country is choosing between two candidates of unusually advanced age. If elected, Donald Trump would be the oldest person to ever assume the presidency. Hillary would be the second oldest. It is not inconceivable that Mike Pence or Tim Kaine could unexpectedly take over as our new commander-in-chief.
Fortunately, Tuesday’s vice presidential debate gave us a little more insight into the two vice-presidential candidates. Let’s start with Tim Kaine. The current Senator, and former Governor, has been recognized as a safe, or even “boring” choice. In general, the campaign has defined Kaine as a partner to Hillary Clinton.
This held true at the debate. Kaine quickly settled into his role as both an advocate for Clinton and an attack dog against Trump. He explained the policy agenda of his ticket while simultaneously offering an unrelenting prosecution against Trump. In my mind, this performance was a sample of what we can expect from his Vice Presidency. Kaine is an effective team player, relying not on his own self-promotion but on a workmanlike dedication to the greater good.
On the other hand, we have Mike Pence. In terms of presentation, he remained calm and direct, demonstrating his prior history as a radio and talk show in the 1990s. What he actually said, however, is a different story. Pence spent much of the time seemingly ignoring the fact that he was running on a ticket with Donald Trump. Most strikingly, his opinions on foreign policy seemed nearly incompatible with Trump’s vision.
In stark contrast to Trump’s friendly attitude towards Vladimir Putin, Pence struck an unusually hawkish tone. For a moment, the Trump-Pence ticket ceased to mimic the alt right’s obsession with Russia, in favor of bringing back Cold War rhetoric. Bizarrely, when Kaine attempted to point out Trump’s prior praise of Putin, Pence simply claimed it wasn’t true. While Pence still struggles to adopt Trump’s policy views, he has certainly excelled at learning the art of the blatant lie.
This happened, in fact, over and over again. Kaine would directly quote Trump, only for Pence to deny the existence of the quote. Pence, it seemed, wanted to be evaluated separately from his running mate. Just for now, let’s entertain this idea, no matter how ridiculous it might be. Pence, after all, does offer one truly distinct difference from Trump.
Prior to his elevation to the ticket, Mike Pence built his political career on the basis of his socially conservative views. In the debate, this was most apparent when he brought up abortion. While reproductive rights have hardly been discussed in this campaign, Pence is a fierce opponent of the right to choose. In Congress, he railed against Planned Parenthood, and as Governor, he has signed anti-choice legislation. Bizarrely, this even included a bill that mandates burial or cremation for fetuses in the event of abortion or miscarriage.
Nonetheless, even beyond abortion, the most notable aspect of Mike Pence’s times in politics was not even mentioned at the debate. It is true that the moderator had a difficult job. Still, there is no excuse for the fact that she failed to ask a question on LGBTQ rights.
To be blunt, Mike Pence has an anti-gay record that is out of touch with our increasingly tolerant society. He has opposed funding for HIV programs. He opposes marriage equality. Most of all, in 2015, he signed a supposed “religious liberty” law that had the practical effective of condoning anti-gay discrimination. Amid national outcry, he was forced to alter this bigoted law. The American public deserves to know about Pence’s anti-gay views. At the very least, he should’ve been made to explain why he believes that millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans do not deserve the full rights and protections that others enjoy.
In the end, I will say the same thing as I always do: this is a highly unusual election. Trump is a legitimately dangerous figure, with no parallel in recent American presidential nominees. His running mate, Mike Pence, deserves no credit for failing to personally match the horror of Trump. In addition to enabling Trump’s hate, Pence is ready to bring his own unique flavor of bigotry into the White House.
Almost no one is going to vote on the basis of the vice presidential candidates, and they shouldn’t. But I think Pence teaches an important lesson. This election is more than just about winning; it’s also about how the government will be run for the next four years, and how each political party will continue to evolve. Win or lose, none of this ends with Trump. After November 8, it’s only just begun.
Kevin Kowalewski is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Democratic Dialogue appears alternate Thursdays this semester.