VP debate: Pence and Kaine deeply divided over LE issues

Republican Indiana Governor Mike Pence and Democratic Virginia Senator Tim Kaine battled it out for 90 minutes in the only vice presidential debate of the 2016 election season


Over the course of American political history, vice presidential debates have had about as much effect on the choice of the voting public as whether or not the top of the ticket is a dog person or a cat person. On the rare occasion when one of these events has risen to a reasonable level of interest, it is typically because of a dreadful gaffe like James Stockdale’s “Who am I? Why I am here?” opening remarks or a successful one-liner like Lloyd Bentsen’s zinger, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

However, because the two candidates for the highest office in the land are also the two oldest individuals seeking the presidency (thus increasing the possibility that the VP inherits the office), people are actually paying attention to the two number twos on the ticket. 

Republican Indiana Governor Mike Pence and Democratic Virginia Senator Tim Kaine battled it out for 90 minutes in the only vice presidential debate of the 2016 election season. As had been expected, moderator Elaine Quijano eventually turned to issues related to law enforcement. Here’s some of what they said. 

Tim Kaine (left) and Mike Pence shake hands after a contentious debate.
Tim Kaine (left) and Mike Pence shake hands after a contentious debate. (AP Image)

From community policing to stop and frisk
Quijano said, “After the Dallas police shooting, Police Chief David Brown said, quote, ‘We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. Every societal failure we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, not enough drug addiction funding, schools fail, let’s give it to the cops.’ Do we ask too much of police officers in this country? And how would you specifically address the chief’s concerns?”

Senator Kaine said in reply, “Elaine, I think that’s a very fair comment. I think we put a lot on police shoulders. And this is something I got a lot of scar tissue and experience on.”

Kaine touted his experience as mayor in Richmond, where he claimed to have had a hand in reducing the homicide rate by nearly 50 percent.

“Here’s what I learned as a mayor and a governor,” Kaine said. “The way you make communities safer and the way you make police safer is through community policing. You build the bonds between the community and the police force, build bonds of understanding, and then when people feel comfortable in their communities, that gap between the police and the communities they serve narrows. And when that gap narrows, it’s safer for the communities and it’s safer for the police.”

Kaine then denounced the practice of stop-and-frisk, saying that “it polarizes the relationship between the police and the community.” 

And as if on script, Kaine followed in Hillary Clinton’s debate footsteps to call for more gun control laws. 

From gun control to praise for police
“When I was governor of Virginia, there was a horrible shooting at Virginia Tech, and we learned that through that painful situation that gaps in the background record check system should have been closed and it could have prevented that crime, and so we’re going to work to do things like close background record checks. And if we do, we won’t have the tragedies that we did,” Kaine said. 

Governor Pence quickly countered, “My uncle was a cop — a career cop — on the beat in downtown Chicago. He was my hero when I was growing up.” 

Pence added, “Police officers are the best of us. And the men and women, white, African-American, Asian, Latino, Hispanic, they put their lives on the line every single day. And let me say, at the risk of agreeing with you, community policing is a great idea. It’s worked in the Hoosier state. And we fully support that.”

Predictably, Pence plugged the fact that the National Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Donald Trump and just as predictably, Kaine raised the intertwined issues of high-profile officer-involved shootings and the assertion of implicit racial bias in law enforcement. 

Pence accused Kaine, his running mate, and protesters of politicizing police action shootings as and using a broad brush to accuse law enforcement of implicit bias or institutional racism. 

“That really has got to stop,” Pence said. “We ought to stop seizing on these moments of tragedy. We ought to assure the public that we’ll have a full and complete and transparent investigation whenever there’s a loss of life because of police action. But, Senator, please, you know, enough of this seeking every opportunity to demean law enforcement broadly by making the accusation of implicit bias every time tragedy occurs.”

Kaine then proceeded to do precisely what Pence had just described, using the example of Philando Castile, who was involved in an IOS in St. Paul, where the investigation into his death remains ongoing. 

“He was killed for no apparent reason,” Kaine said. “He had been stopped by police 40 or 50 times before that fatal incident. And if you look at sentencing in this country, African-Americans and Latinos get sentenced for the same crimes at very different rates.”

“Law enforcement in this country is a force for good,” Pence countered. “They are the — they truly are people that put their lives on the line every single day. But I would — I would suggest to you, what we need to do is assert a stronger leadership at the national level to support law enforcement. You just heard Senator Kaine reject stop-and-frisk. Well, I would suggest to you that the families that live in our inner cities that are besieged by crime.”

The night’s winners and losers
Moderator Elaine Quijano completely lost the handle about three minutes into it, and never regained control of the event. The dustup at Longwood University was littered with interruptions, cross-talking, insults, and deflected (and unanswered) questions. 

The prevailing consensus is that Pence came out on top, largely due to the perception that he appeared calmer and more professional. Kaine did himself no favors in interrupting his opponent 71 times in 90 minutes. Manners matter and those constant intrusions did not make for a good look. 

The real loser may have been the American viewing public, who will never get that hour and a half of their lives back again. They will suffer similar torture again on Sunday, when Trump and Clinton face off in their second of three debates. 

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