Conventional wisdom says that Pence is the sane counterweight to Trump. Conventional wisdom is completely out to lunch on this one.
Articles such as this one from the Guardian say that Pence’s problem is having to defend the statements and actions of Trump. But that is not really his biggest problem.
His biggest problem is going to be defending his own actions and statements.
The main reason that Pence was available as a VP pick was that he probably was not going to win re-election in Indiana. And the reason for that is that his views on social issues like marriage equality, abortion and gay/trans issues are so backward that even Indiana voters can’t support them.
Kaine’s job tonight is not to force Pence into a corner and force him to support Trump. It is much simpler than that.
He just has to let Pence be Pence.
Give Pence a chance to say that women who have abortions should be punished. Or that businesses should be allowed to discriminate against gay people because, you know, religion. Or that gay people should be subject to “conversion therapy,” because, you know, religion.
Make Pence defend his own statements, don’t even bother with Trump’s.
If Pence goes on an abortion rant or has a visceral reaction when LGBTQ issues are mentioned, it really is game over for Trump and company. People sometimes give Trump a pass when he takes an extreme position on social issues because they feel that he is simply posturing. Pence really believes this stuff, he can’t walk it back.
People are coming around to the idea that Trump is dangerously unstable. Pence is supposed to be the counterweight that balances that thought.
Letting Pence be Pence will show that he is no counterweight at all and in many ways may be worse than Trump on issues that matter to millenials and women.
People are (somewhat) OK with having religious beliefs guide people in government, but they are not OK with using religion to cover for personal bigotry. Pence pretty clearly falls into the personal bigotry column.
Kaine wins the night if he shows that Pence has a “mission from God” to impose his own bigotry on everyone else. It might just be sentence or two. It might be body language. Even if the debate is otherwise a “tie” that moment will be important. It will allow the campaign to say tomorrow that Trump will sign into law Pence’s own prejudices.
So, I hope that the Trump campaign is right that Pence will be giving a “fiery” performance tonight. Let him be just as unhinged as Trump himself.
Game over if he does!