Vice presidential debates are often the comic relief of election season. For example, Joe Biden supplied a lifetime worth of gifs for his debate with Paul Ryan in 2012. This year, however, the vibe will be different. For one thing, the man at the top of the Republican ticket has provided an overabundance of self-parody. By comparison, both candidates facing off tonight are pretty colorless.
That’s not to say that there isn’t the potential for some interesting moments. The primary opportunity will come if Mike Pence is asked to explain his position on Indiana’s religious liberty law. Pence so badly mishandled that his fellow Republicans all but threw him at Trump so that they wouldn’t be saddled with him running for re-election.
Pence signed the religious liberty bill in a behind-closed-door ceremony attended by some of Indiana’s biggest homophobes. It was all downhill from there. Businesses objected strenuously to the measure, with some pulling their business from the state. Indiana became a laughingstock on late night television.
Making it all that much worse was Pence’s performance. Here was his chance to shine on the national stage. Yet in media appearance after media appearance, Pence gave the appearance of a man who had only recently been introduced to the English language. In short, he looked like an idiot, and his approval ratings quickly came to resemble the IQ of one.
Now Pence may have chosen to look like an idiot than admit he is a dyed-in-the-wool homophobe. But there’s every reason to believe that Pence is just lousy under the media spotlight. When 60 Minutes interviewed him with Donald Trump last July, Pence virtually disappeared. In an appearance on ABC’s This Week last month, Pence badly floundered trying to defend Trump’s birtherism on Hillary Clinton.
Compared to Trump, of course, Pence is Thomas Jefferson. Neither Pence nor Tim Kaine has a killer’s instinct in a debate, so the debate will probably feel like an extended PBS segment. But keep an eye out for Pence’s inability to defend the indefensible.
If he couldn’t make the case for a law that he really believed in, how ever will he be able to sell Donald Trump?