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Analyzing the 2016 V.P. Debate Between Kaine and Pence

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This is not Mike Pence’s first vice-presidential campaign debate. In 2016, he faced Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, Hillary Clinton’s running mate. It was a vigorous and contentious 90 minutes, and it gives a hint of what Mr. Pence might be like on Wednesday night when he debates Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate.

And a review of that 2016 matchup leaves no doubt that Mr. Pence knows the two things a vice-presidential candidate is supposed to do in a debate. The first is to defend the person at the top of your ticket, in this case President Trump. The second is to attack the person at the top of the opposing ticket: Mrs. Clinton in 2016, and Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020.

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Pence Defends Trump

Look, Donald Trump and I have a plan to get this economy moving again, just the way that it worked in the 1980s, just the way it worked in the 1960s, and that is by lowering taxes across the board for working families, small businesses and family farms, ending the war on coal that is hurting jobs and hurting this economy, even here in Virginia, repealing Obamacare, lock, stock, and barrel, and repealing all of the executive orders that Barack Obama has signed that are stifling economic growth in this economy. We can get America moving again. Put on top of that the kind of trade deals that’ll put the American worker first, and you’ve got a prescription for real growth. And when you get the economy growing, Elaine, that’s when you can deal with the national debt. When we get back to 3 and 1/2 to 4 percent growth, which Donald Trump’s plan will do, then we’re going to have the resources to meet our nation’s needs at home and abroad, and we’re going to have the ability to bring down the national debt.

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CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Mr. Kaine attacked Mr. Trump at every opportunity, and Mr. Pence was ready. He diligently defended his running mate. But typically, as was the case in this clip, he defended Mr. Trump and quickly pivoted to talk about what a Trump administration would do, or to attack President Barack Obama or Mrs. Clinton. He presumably did not want the debate to turn into a referendum on Mr. Trump, and almost certainly is coming into this year’s debate with a similar strategy. That’s likely to be more difficult this time: Mr. Trump has been president for four years, the country has been slammed by a pandemic, and Mr. Trump himself is sick.

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Pence Attacks Hillary Clinton

“But there’s a reason why people question the trustworthiness of Hillary Clinton, and that’s because they’re paying attention. I mean, the reality is when she was secretary of state, Senator, come on, she had a Clinton Foundation accepting contributions from foreign governments.” “You are Donald Trump’s apprentice. Let me talk about this —” “Senator, I think I’m still on my time.” “Well, I think, isn’t this a discussion?” Moderator: “This is our open discussion.” “Let’s talk about the state of —” “Well, let me interrupt, let me interrupt you, I’ll finish my sentence if I can.” “Finish your sentence.” “The Clinton Foundation accepted foreign contributions from foreign governments and foreign donors while she was secretary of state.” “OK, now I can weigh in.” “She had a private server —” “I get to weigh in. Now, let me just say this —” “— that was discovered —” “— that pay to play process, out of the reach of the public.” “Senator, you have an opportunity to respond.” “Governor Pence, Governor Pence doesn’t think the world’s going so well and he, you know, is going to say it’s everybody’s fault.” “Do you?”

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CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Mr. Pence was energetic in attacking Mrs. Clinton, amplifying and expanding on the attacks Mr. Trump was making on the campaign trail. “There’s a reason why people question the trustworthiness of Hillary Clinton and that’s because they’re paying attention,” he said, smoothly delivering one of the more memorable (if no doubt scripted) lines of the night. Mr. Biden has proved to be a more elusive target than Mrs. Clinton, but the kind of attack on her record Wednesday night is likely to be reprised. (This exchange is also instructive in how Mr. Pence was able to keep control of the microphone despite Mr. Kaine’s effort to derail him.)

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Pence Attacks Senator Kaine

The state of Indiana has balanced budgets. We cut taxes. We made record investments in education and in infrastructure. And I still finished my term with $2 billion in the bank. That’s a little bit different than when Senator Kaine was governor here in Virginia. He actually, he actually tried to raise taxes by about $4 billion. He left his state about $2 billion in the hole — the state of Indiana, we’ve cut unemployment in half, unemployment doubled when he was governor. But I think I think he’s a very fitting running mate for Hillary Clinton because in the wake of a season where American families are struggling in this economy under the weight of higher taxes and Obamacare, and the war on coal and the stifling avalanche of regulation coming out of this administration, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine want more of the same. It really is remarkable that they actually are advocating a trillion dollars in tax increases, which I get that, you tried to raise taxes here in Virginia — and you were unsuccessful.

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CreditCredit…Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Mr. Pence was just as vigorous in attacking Mr. Kaine’s record as governor of Virginia, though much of this attack seems intended to build up his own credentials as governor of Indiana. Voters don’t make their decisions in presidential races based on the running mates, so there was little reason for Mr. Pence to spend too much time on Mr. Kaine.

The dynamic is different this year. Mr. Trump, frustrated in his efforts to assail Mr. Biden, has tried to portray Ms. Harris as a far-left Democrat who would be the real power in the White House should Mr. Biden win. Given the ages of the two men at the top of the ticket — Mr. Trump is 74, Mr. Biden is 77 — and Mr. Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis, a clear subtext of this matchup is that either Ms. Harris or Mr. Pence could be president one day.

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Pence on Trump’s Taxes

“Governor, with all due respect, the question was about whether it seems fair to you that Mr. Trump said he brilliantly used the laws to pay as little tax as legally possible?” “Well, this is probably the difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Senator Kaine. I mean, Hillary Clinton and Senator Kaine and, and God bless you for it, career public servants. That’s great. Donald Trump is a businessman not a career politician. He actually built a business. Those tax returns that came out publicly this week showed that he faced some pretty tough times 20 years ago. But like virtually every other business, including The New York Times not too long ago, he used what’s called net operating loss. We have a tax code, Senator, that actually is designed to encourage entrepreneurship.” “But why won’t he released his tax returns?” “Well, we’re answering the question about the business thing is—” “I, I, I do want to come back —” “His tax returns that showed he went through a very difficult time, but he used the tax code just the way it’s supposed to be used. And he did it brilliantly.” “How do you know? You haven’t seen his tax returns.” Because he’s created a business that’s worth billions of dollars.” “How do you know that?” “And with regard to paying taxes, this whole riff about not paying taxes and people saying he didn’t pay taxes for years, Donald Trump has created tens of thousands of jobs and he’s paid payroll allowances —” “Let me talks about taxes —” Moderator: “Senator, I am going to give you about 30 seconds to respond and I have a question on Social Security —” “He’s going to raise taxes, and Donald Trump and I are going to cut them.”

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CreditCredit…Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Mr. Pence was forced to defend Mr. Trump on an issue that is likely to come up again on Wednesday: the president’s success at minimizing his federal tax bill. It was the subject of stories in The New York Times in 2016 and in 2020, both published just before the vice-presidential debates.

Mr. Pence was prepared for the question — arguing, as Mr. Trump has, that his running mate was a smart businessman who minimized his tax bill. “Donald Trump is a business man, not a career politician,” he said. Bonus in this exchange: Mr. Pence avoids answering the question of why Mr. Trump has not, as pledged, released his tax returns. (He still has not.)

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Pence on Law and Order

You know, my uncle was a cop a career cop on the beat in downtown Chicago. He was my hero when I was growing up. When we’d go up to visit my dad’s family in Chicago, my three brothers and I would marvel at my uncle when he would come out in his uniform, sidearm at his side. Police officers are the best of us, and men and women, white, African-American, Asian, Latino, Hispanic, they put their lives on the line every single day. And let me say it at the risk of agreeing with you, I think community policing is a great idea. It’s worked in the Hoosier State, and we fully support that. Donald Trump and I are going to make sure that law enforcement have the resources and the tools to be able to really restore law and order, and to the cities and communities of this nation — it’s probably why the 330,000 members of the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Donald Trump as the next president of the United States of America, because they see his commitment to them. They see his commitment to law and order. But they also they also hear the bad-mouthing, the bad-mouthing that comes from people that seize upon tragedy in the wake of police-action shootings as a reason to use a broad brush to accuse law enforcement of implicit bias or institutional racism, and that really has got to stop.

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CreditCredit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images

During his debate with Mr. Kaine, Mr. Pence addressed an issue that was central in 2016 and that has returned in 2020: law and order. Mr. Pence uses a question about his views about the criticism of law enforcement to talk about his family background, before belittling critics of the police. “My uncle was a cop,” he said, going on to pay tribute to the police. From there, Mr. Pence denounced the “bad-mouthing” of law enforcement by critics who accuse the police of bias or “institutional racism.”

If Mr. Trump has his way, the issue of law and order will be even more central to this election. Mr. Trump has argued that putting Democrats in control would lead to a spike in disorder and crime, pointing to some of the demonstrations that have swept through American cities this summer. Mr. Pence can be expected to say much the same thing on Wednesday night. So far, there is little evidence that law-and-order is capturing voters’ attention the way the pandemic has, or that Mr. Trump is being lifted politically by that issue.

Source: nytimes.com

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