Column: Reasons voters need to watch the vice presidential debate

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FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2016, file photo, Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks in Wilmington, N.C. With the first presidential debate complete and its spin cycle nearly over, the two understudies are getting ready to take the main stage. The vice presidential debate on Oct. 4, 2016, will be the only time Republican Mike Pence and Kaine will have the nation’s attention all to themselves, away from their much more well-known running mates. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

AP
FILE – In this Sept. 6, 2016, file photo, Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks in Wilmington, N.C. With the first presidential debate complete and its spin cycle nearly over, the two understudies are getting ready to take the main stage. The vice presidential debate on Oct. 4, 2016, will be the only time Republican Mike Pence and Kaine will have the nation’s attention all to themselves, away from their much more well-known running mates. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

So, there’s a debate tonight. It’s OK if you’ve forgotten. Instead of a clash between the two most unpopular presidential candidates in history — Donald Trump, the physical embodiment of America’s shame, and Hillary Clinton, the longtime target of your uncle’s ill-informed Facebook posts — vice presidential candidates, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence, will square off Tuesday night for what will likely be a more substantive, if less entertaining, debate.

But while you should lower expectations, you should never brush aside a vice presidential debate. It’s an important moment for the candidates, who are usually lesser-known in comparison to their running mates. It is also an important historical moment. After all, one of these guys will be our next vice president, which means that either of them could be president in the event of disaster.

Better yet, tonight’s debate has all of the elements of good television and, more importantly, a good debate. Here are a few reasons you should tune in:

Pence will have to defend Trump on a national stage

Pence, who seems about as sane as any Tea Party advocate can be, supports Trump, of course. But, like other Republicans, that doesn’t mean he agrees with everything that Trump says. Though it may be unfair to hound Pence for the indiscretions of his running mate, it will still be an essential moment when he outlines why he supports Trump and believes him to be a suitable leader for the United States. Likewise, it will be interesting to see if Kaine can sidestep Clinton’s weaknesses as effortlessly as she did during the first presidential debate.

Republican vice presidential candidate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally Friday, Sept. 30, 2016, in Fort Wayne, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

AP
Republican vice presidential candidate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally Friday, Sept. 30, 2016, in Fort Wayne, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

This debate will be more policy-driven than last week’s reality television-esque opener

Kaine and Pence will want to refrain from hurling insults and accusations at one another, and it’s unlikely that they will spend a significant amount of the 90-minute debate defending their running mates. Instead, Kaine and Pence will be forced to define the vision of America that they and their running mates have in mind.

For Pence, this is vital. Trump isn’t exactly known for his nuanced policy speeches, but Pence is a career politician who should be well-suited for this kind of talk. He must prove that the vague ideas his running mate has established a campaign upon are politically feasible and right for America. In short, unlike Trump, Pence will be prepared, with Politico reporting last week that Pence was participating in mock debates with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as a stand-in for Kaine.

This debate will actually be fair

Last week’s debate featured two candidates who couldn’t have been more opposite. In front of 84 million people, Trump demonstrated his lack of preparation for the debate and, in turn, why he should not assume the nation’s highest office. Meanwhile, Clinton proved that, despite America’s lack of trust in her, she has the qualifications, policies and, yes, temperament to lead a country.

Conversely, Kaine and Pence are fairly equal. Kaine is a Virginia senator and a former Virginia governor, while Pence is the governor of Indiana and a former member of the United States House of Representatives. From a technical point of view, Kaine and Pence are well-matched, meaning this debate could boil down to how well either candidate represents their respective party’s platform.

It’s a refreshing buffer before this Sunday’s second presidential debate

Yes, I know. We’re still recovering from last Monday’s debate, which was the catalyst for a weeklong media circus beginning with Trump’s misogynistic comments about former Miss Universe Alicia Machado and ending with a New York Times investigative piece suggesting Trump may have avoided paying federal income taxes for up to 18 years, if not more.

This week probably won’t be as interesting, but it may be the closest thing Americans get to a normal political discussion this election cycle.

Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate begins at 9 p.m. and will broadcast on every major network and cable channel, as well as C-SPAN.

Jared Casto can be contacted at [email protected]

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