Got my popcorn right here!
Question of the hour: Can Mike Pence change the dynamic of the race? Does the White Rabbit calm the Red Queen?
Elaine Quijano, moderator.
9:05 1st question: Presidential leadership. If the VP has to step in, should tragedy occur, are you equipped to do the job?
Kaine starts off about protesting school segregation in a Virginia high school. Strange. Pivot to Hillary. He's ignoring the question, really. Kaine gets it in immediately that he's been a missionary. Ha. "Hillary's right-hand person," that's me! Son in the Marine Corps. Thought of Donald Trump in the presidency scares me to death. Wow. Kaine unpacked his portmanteau on that one!
Pence: America is on its death-bed. "I'm a small-town boy," so maybe America will survive? I'll bring a lifetime of experience to the job.
Quijano: Is Hillary trustworthy? Emails ... Clinton Foundation.
Kaine: Hillary bio boilerplate. "Donald Trump always puts himself first," in contrast to Hillary. Trump and his birtherism. (Kaine is on the attack!)
Quijano: 70% of voters think Trump has a bad temperament.
Pence: Goes on attack: the Hillary campaign has been nastier than our campaign.
Kaine: Interrupts, attacks about Trump's love of Vladimir Putin.
Pence: Continues doggedly, trying to pin nastiness on the Clinton-Kaine campaign.
Kaine is interrupting maybe too much. He clearly intends to dominate Pence. The right strategy?
Pence: reciting talking points about Obama giving Iraq to ISIS.
9:16 Quijano: Let's turn to the economy. Both your plans will add to the national debt. Won't that be disastrous?
Pence: Under Obama, we've more than doubled the national debt. And Kaine left his state in the hole. Which makes him a fitting running mate for Hillary Clinton, Pence quips. They're advocating a trillion $$ in tax increases. Gets in Bill Clinton's calling Obamacare a "crazy plan." Pence has been stuffed with talking points like a Christmas goose. Same with Kaine.
Kaine: Do you want a "you're hired!" president in Hillary, or a "you're fired!" president in Donald Trump? (They both came tonight well equipped with the one-liners!) Donald Trump said wages are too high, and both Trump and Pence are against increasing minimum wage. Trump's tax plan helps Donald Trump. It's a "Trump first" plan.
Quijano: Brings up Trump's failure to pay taxes. To Pence: Does that seem fair to you?
Pence: Changes the topic quickly. "What you're hearing from Kaine is more taxes, more spending."
Kaine: I am interested in hearing whether he approves of his running mate paying no taxes.
Quijano repeats the question to Pence: Pence repeats the official dodge: "Donald Trump is a businessman." And then the pivot to what a genius Trump is: "He used the tax code, and he used it brilliantly."
Kaine: In other words, in Trump World, it's smart not to pay for the military, it's smart not to pay for roads, it's smart not to pay for schools.
Quijano having trouble keeping them from talking over each other. It is irritating, and Kaine is the main transgressor.
Kaine: We will never, ever engage in a risky scheme to privatize Social Security. Congressman Pence has pushed for privatizing Social Security.
Pence: "There they go again." Channeling Saint Ronny.
Kaine: You have a voting record! (Not tonight, he doesn't!)
9:28: Law enforcement and race relations. Do we ask too much of police officers?
Kaine: Brings up his service as mayor of Richmond, in understanding the tough job of cops. Community policing! Build bonds of cooperation between police and community. Trump wants more stop-and-frisk, which polarizes the community and the police. "I'm a gun owner," Kaine announces.
Pence: My uncle is a cop. "At the risk of agreeing with you," he says to Kaine, "I think community policing is a great idea." I believe he just agreed with Kaine. But then pivots to those favorite words of conservatives: "law 'n' order." And criticizes by implication the Black Lives Matter movement: people who criticize the police. Stop implying bias every time the police kill a citizen. Yes, Pence actually said that.
Quijano: Quotes black Republican Senator Scott of South Carolina, who said he knows what it feels like to be targeted by police just because of skin color. She asks Pence if Scott is wrong.
Pence: What Donald and I are saying is let's not have the reflex of blaming the police automatically.
Kaine: Trump has called immigrants rapists. He's called women pigs. He called an Indiana judge a Mexican. He perpetuated the bigoted lie that President Obama wasn't born in this country. The disrespect is coming from the top of that campaign. It's an insult-driven campaign.
9:38: What do you tell undocumented immigrants who've committed no crimes that they're going to be deported anyway?
Pence is opening himself up to an attack on Trump's immigrant stance. Pence counters "insult-driven campaign" with Hillary's "basket of deplorables."
Kaine: "Hillary apologized for that remark. When has Trump ever apologized?" Trump wants to deport 11 million people, and he even wants to get rid of birthright citizenship. "I can't believe that my opponent is going to sit here and defend a deportation force in this country."
Pence gives long answer, trying to soften Trump's very well documented attitude toward immigrants. Doesn't really work.
9:46: Terrorism. Has threat increased or decreased? (Here's a question that should be in Pence's wheelhouse.)
Kaine gets it in twice: "Hillary was on the team that got Bin Laden. Donald Trump can't start a twitter war with Miss Universe without shooting himself in the foot. He has no plan for terrorism. He wants to fire all the generals and he loves dictators. Trump believes that the world will be safer if more nations have nuclear weapons." (Kaine takes charge of this topic!)
Pence: "Did you work on that answer a really long time?" (Weak, Pence.) But he gets on message: America is weaker since Obama took office. "My heart breaks," says Pence, over the spectacle of the military failures under Obama.
Quijano: Governor Pence, Trump has advocated "extreme vetting" of foreigners, which wouldn't have prevented several recent terrorist attacks. What would you do to prevent home-grown terrorism?
Pence: Ignores the question, goes with "extreme vetting" of foreigners.
Kaine: We want to keep people out if they're dangerous. Trump and Pence say all Mexicans are dangerous, all Muslims are dangerous.
Quijano asks Kaine what Hillary meant by her call for "an intelligence surge."
Kaine is ready for that question. Strangely, Pence did not seem ready for the terrorism question, or he was somewhat flummoxed by the direction it took.
9:56: Let's talk about the situation in Syria.
Pence: determined to get in Hillary's private email server. Score!
Quijano has completely lost control of these two. "I want to turn now to Syria," she insists. Does the U.S. have a responsibility to protect Syrian civilians?
Pence: Takes the opportunity to talk about Obama's weakness, the light motif of the evening. But his answer to the question? "Immediately establish safe zones." Provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength. Military strikes! Yeah, that's the ticket!
Kaine takes the opening to go after the Trump-Pence love affair with Vladimir Putin. Brings up failure to pay taxes again. Trump was not supporting the troops after 9/11 by not paying taxes. Zing.
Quijano: Pence, how would you set up safe zones?
Pence doesn't answer that question. Starts trying to defend Trump's failure to pay taxes. "We just need American strength." "Try Red Bull!" someone does not yell from the audience, much to my disappointment.
Kaine: asks Pence, "Do you think more nuclear weapons in the world will make us safer?" Pence seems a little stunned by the bluntness of the question. "Six times I've said to Mr. Pence tonight that I don't know how he can defend Trump's failure to pay taxes." Kaine turns the table on being strong with Russia: "You might start by not calling Putin a strong leader and saying you admire him more than Obama." Pence back on his heels. Pence shaking his head "no" at Kaine but is speechless.
Kaine came tonight for a street fight. Pence came for a prayer circle. The contrast is stark between the two, and apparently no one expected Kaine to be such a bruiser.
Kaine boring in on Trump and Putin: "If you can't tell the difference between dictatorship and leadership, then you have no business being president." True dat!
10:16: North Korea and Iran and nuclear weapons. What specific steps would you take to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons capable of reaching the United States?
Pence: We're going to go back to the days of "peace through strength." Pivots to Clinton Foundation. Implies it was all crooked, "pay-to-play."
Kaine: totally ready to talk about Clinton Foundation. Smacks his lips as he begins to compare the Clinton Foundation with the Trump Foundation. Oh boy!
Quijano: Mr. Pence, I'll let you respond, but I'll remind you that we're supposed to be talking about North Korea.
Pence: 33,000 emails! (This is more like a school-yard brawl, where both little boys pick up stray rocks and hurl them at each other.)
10:23: Social issues. Can you talk about a time when you had to balance your personal beliefs and your public service. (Good question!)
Kaine: Dives right in to his Catholic upbringing. Catholic Church is against death penalty, and so am I, but I was the governor of a state that had the death penalty. I took an oath to uphold the law. It was very difficult to allow executions to go forward. Those of us with deep faith views can't impose those views on everybody else.
Pence: Personal decision for Christ when I was in college. Born again, yep! Sanctity of life. He's wrapping himself in a doctrinaire anti-abortion robe, without admitting that he's ever had a bad moment meshing his personal beliefs with his performance in office. He missed the point of the question.
Kaine: Let's talk about abortion. We support Roe v. Wade. We trust American women to make their own decisions, and we don't believe that women should be punished for those decisions. Governor Pence has said he wants to put Roe v. Wade on the ash heap of history. "You should live your moral values, but the last thing the law should do is punish women for making their own decisions."
Final Question: Senator Kaine, what will you do to reunify the country after such a divisive campaign?
Kaine: Hillary Clinton has a track record of working across the aisle to get things done, and so do I. After Election Day, the goal will be to work together.
Same question to Pence. He recites the previous talking points about weak America, broken America, America in need of the healing embrace of Donald Trump.