The most interesting thing about yesterday’s US vice-presidential debate was that there was not a dime’s worth of difference between the arguments put by Republican Mike Pence and the views of running-mate Donald Trump. The difference was entirely in presentation. Pence has a professional politician’s skills in knowing how to phrase what he says and how to craft his arguments just so. But so far as what they amount to, they are exactly the same as Trump’s.
Kaine, on the other hand, was a much worse version of Hillary. She was more polished in the first presidential debate, understood her position and how to present it. By contrast, I found Kaine both irritating and shallow to a startling degree. I have always recognised that anecdote is the replacement for analysis when you are dealing with people unused to complex ideas. But if, underneath anything Kaine said, there actually was a complex idea of any sort, I missed it.
Pence described how a Trump administration would deal with national defence, illegal immigration, economic revival and racial tensions. He defended removing illegals, along with stop-and-frisk policing. What surprised me most about Kaine was the extent to which he repeated Trump’s policy proposals over and over — under the assumption, I imagine, that merely hearing what Trump wishes to do is automatically to oppose it. That’s what comes from locking oneself in the media’s echo chamber, where the prevailing wisdom of the chattering classes is the only acceptable position. My suspicion, however, is that for those who like what Trump has to offer, it is exactly what he proposes that they like. Kaine did no more than reinforce in the minds of Trump’s supporters the reasons to vote as they will on November 8.
Who knows if any of the more difficult parts of the Trump agenda can be done? But there is little doubt that most Americans want a stronger military, the defeat of ISIS, renewed border security, the revival of the economy, a tax system that promotes economic growth and a more cohesive community.
And then there were the two personalities on display. Kaine had no presence and seemed a man of little substance. Pence came across as a deeper thinker, someone whose ideas have been forged in the fires of debate with those who disagree with many of the things he says. As a conservative, even in a party of the right, he would be a lonely presence. It was a positive pleasure to hear him.
Trump-Pence might amount to more than running-mates — they might be a succession plan. I think this election remains a toss-up. But if Trump should win next month and Pence is typical of the personnel he chooses to fill the slots in his administration, there is reason to hope. Only Trump can make this at all possible. Pence provides the evidence of how it might even be done.