How the VP nominees are preparing to boost their campaigns in the debate

Email a Friend

A man walks past banners  before the vice presidential debate between US Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence and his Democratic counterpart Tim Kaine at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, on October 4, 2016. 
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's running mates carried the race for the White House Tuesday, preparing to face off in their only debate of the campaign with the US elections  five weeks away. / AFP / Jewel SAMAD        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

GWEN IFILL: The vice presidential nominees step out of the shadows tonight for their lone debate. They are at Longwood College in Farmville, Virginia, for their 90-minute face off.

Lisa Desjardins is there, and she begins our coverage.

LISA DESJARDINS: They previewed the Virginia debate site less than an hour apart, first Republican Mike Pence, then Democrat Tim Kaine, scouting out the Longwood University stage ahead of their one and only vice presidential showdown.

For both, it’s an opportunity to help the ticket, while trying to avoid pitfalls. Consider 1988, when Republican Dan Quayle likened himself to a youthful John F. Kennedy, and drew that famous rebuke from Democrat Lloyd Bentsen.

LLOYD BENTSEN (D), Vice Presidential Nominee: Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.

LISA DESJARDINS: Then there was 2000, when two experienced politicians and debaters met, Democrat Joe Lieberman and Republican Dick Cheney.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), Vice Presidential Nominee: I can see my wife, and I think she’s thinking, gee, I wish he would go out into the private sector.

DICK CHENEY (R), Vice Presidential Nominee: Well, I’m going to try to help you do that, Joe.

(LAUGHTER)

LISA DESJARDINS: While this year’s debate participants were prepping today, their top-of-the-ticket running mates were out stumping. Hillary Clinton, not far from Philadelphia, talked about her proposals to help families, and went after Donald Trump on the way he talks about women.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Presidential Nominee: Think about it. My opponent insulted Miss Universe. I mean, how do you get more acclaimed than that? But it wasn’t good enough. We need to laugh at it, we need to refute it, we need to ignore it, and we need to stand up to it.

LISA DESJARDINS: First lady Michelle Obama was also campaigning for Clinton again, this time in Charlotte, North Carolina.

MICHELLE OBAMA, First Lady: Hillary Clinton is tough. See, I have watched her. When she gets knocked down, she doesn’t complain. She doesn’t cry foul. No, she gets right back up.

LISA DESJARDINS: As for Trump, he was in a traditional Republican stronghold, Arizona.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee: She complains about how I have used the tax laws of this country to my benefit. Then I ask a simple question: Why didn’t she ever try to change those laws, so I couldn’t use them?

LISA DESJARDINS: This morning, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway defended him against a New York Times report that he might have paid no income taxes for 18 years. She insisted he paid plenty in taxes.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, Trump Campaign Manager: The fact is, this man has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes over decades, excise taxes, federal payroll taxes, city state and local taxes, real estate taxes, property taxes.

QUESTION: You didn’t say income taxes. But you didn’t say income taxes.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Well, he certainly has, in the years that he made a profit. Like anybody else, he paid income taxes.

LISA DESJARDINS: Meanwhile, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson raised more questions today, arguing that his admitted lack of foreign policy knowledge is a positive, that it could prevent wars.

FORMER GOV. GARY JOHNSON, Libertarian Presidential Nominee: You know what? And the fact that somebody can dot the I’s and cross the T’s on a foreign leader or a geographic location then allows them to put our military in harm’s way.

LISA DESJARDINS: For tonight, though, the focus is on the V.P. face-off. And then it’s full speed ahead to the second Trump-Clinton debate, on Sunday night.

And, Gwen and Judy, late tonight, we asked Gary Johnson’s campaign to respond to his quote today. And they responded to us late tonight saying that Gary Johnson wasn’t making a serious argument, that he was being tongue-in-cheek — back to you.

GWEN IFILL: OK, Lisa. Well, that’s an interesting response.

Let me ask you about the scene down there in Farmville, Virginia. Last weekend, we worked up to the first presidential debate. There was so much excitement about how many people would be watching, about what would happen, what wouldn’t happen. Is it fair to say it’s not exactly the same tonight?

LISA DESJARDINS: I think that’s right, but maybe in a good way. It is actually an incredibly relaxed atmosphere. Of all the debates that I have covered, Gwen and Judy, I have never been at one that sort of had this kind of nice feeling to it.

Maybe it’s because we have got these two Midwesterners debating tonight, maybe because it’s the vice presidential debate, maybe because people are just tired of all the attacks.

But there is a very almost casual atmosphere here that I haven’t experienced at a debate before. One example, I was walking in the spin room, and noticed some very high-ranking Trump campaign officials just walking around. No one was noticing them, not any reporters.

I was the only reporter who went up to talk to them. They also seemed more at ease than you would expect in a spin room just hours before a debate, so a very different atmosphere indeed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Lisa, is the expectation we are going to hear more tonight about these vice presidential candidates, the running mates, or about the folks at the top of the ticket?

LISA DESJARDINS: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

LISA DESJARDINS: I think that we will hear about both, but I think that when you talk to the campaigns, representatives of both campaigns told me today that they are hoping for a policy debate, but that they don’t expect one.

These two vice presidential candidates have had a lot they have had to defendant in the past month-and-a-half, and we expect that to continue tonight.

Of course, a lot depends on the questions, but then the candidates can turn those questions around. And we will see if either one of them goes on the attack tonight, maybe some policy, but maybe it’s a case of fasten your seat belt. It’s going to be a politely bumpy night, something like that.

(LAUGHTER)

GWEN IFILL: A politely bumpy night. Thanks.

We will ask you about that later on. Lisa Desjardins, thank you very much.

As the campaigns prepare for tonight’s debate, we turn to representatives of both parties to tell us what to expect.

We begin with Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union. He also served as political director in the George W. Bush White House.

When we talked a short time ago, I began by asking what Mike Pence needs to accomplish tonight.

MATT SCHLAPP, Chair, American Conservative Union: You know, I think his job, his primary job is to connect with that heart and soul of the Republican Party, and that’s the conservative base.

And that conservative base is trying to get to know this guy, Donald Trump, and be comfortable with him. And it’s Mike Pence’s number one priority to connect with them, to close the deal with them, bring back those conservatives and Republicans who are still thinking about who they’re going to vote for on Election Day.

GWEN IFILL: I have heard more analogies having to do with Mike Pence’s role in this debate tonight, from cleanup to Swiffer, to — none of them complimentary, all of them about Mike Pence having to defend Donald Trump. Is that his principal role here tonight?

MATT SCHLAPP: Yes, well, all vice presidents have to be the number one cheerleader for the top of the ticket.

But I actually don’t think that’s what this debate is going to be about tonight. I think actually what we’re going to have tonight is a very conservative public servant against a very liberal public servant.

And in our own ratings, Mike Pence has a 99 percent and Tim Kaine has a zero percent. So, we might have a very solid ideological conversation of what it means to be a conservative and what it means to be a liberal and why one philosophy is the right philosophy in 2016.

GWEN IFILL: Matt Schlapp, one of the big differences between the two candidates tonight, for instance, on taxes is that Donald Trump will not release his income tax statements, but Mike Pence already has. How does he explain that?

MATT SCHLAPP: Yes, I think that’s probably — I think that’s going to be one of Kaine’s strategies, to try to put Mike Pence on the defense.

And I’m sure Mike Pence, who I know well, and I’m sure he is very ready for this moment, is going to be ready to also put Tim Kaine on the defense, for the fact that Hillary Clinton has been involved in scandal after scandal after scandal. And it’s one of the reasons why the American voters in all the polls show that they don’t find her honest and trustworthy.

It’s her number one problem that she has got to find a way to mend between now and Election Day.

GWEN IFILL: I think it’s fair to say that Mike Pence and Donald Trump come from opposite ends of the personality spectrum. Do you think that their differences help or hurt the Trump-Pence candidacy?

MATT SCHLAPP: I think the differences make for a good team.

Mike Pence is kind of a steady Midwesterner who comes from kind of a base of the — he’s an ideological firebrand. He understands the conservative philosophy well.

And Donald Trump is a complete outsider, is a relatively new Republican, and he doesn’t even talk like politicians. He talks like a New York businessman. And, together, I actually think Trump is reaching out to these blue-collar working-class Americans across the country like the Republican Party has never been able to do before.

We have always had trouble with that bloc. And I think Mike Pence is able to reach out to those steady conservatives, those lifelong Republicans and say, look, take a chance with this guy because, together, we’re going to make a great team for the country.

GWEN IFILL: Taking a chance.

Here’s one of the things about vice presidential debates, and that people often expect a vice presidential candidate to do fine, as long as he or she doesn’t make a mistake.

MATT SCHLAPP: Right.

GWEN IFILL: So, is it a good night for Mike Pence if he simply gets away without making a mistake?

MATT SCHLAPP: I think so. I think — actually, I think, for both of them, I don’t think either one of them has to worry too much about — I mean, they’re going to make a mistake, Gwen.

You have been there. You have seen it. They’re going to make small mistakes. I don’t see either one of them making a big, huge gaffe. They’re pretty steady political pros.

And I also think, if Tim Kaine’s number one job is to help Hillary Clinton be a little more likable and smile and be charming and be himself, that’s a pretty low bar for someone to have to pass. And I think, for Mike Pence, his job is to once again hit those themes which he lives and understands and passionately believes in.

GWEN IFILL: Matt Schlapp, thanks so much.

MATT SCHLAPP: Thanks, Gwen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now we hear from the Democrats.

Donna Brazile is interim chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Welcome to the program, Donna Brazile.

So, we just heard Matt Schlapp say that Tim Kaine’s main job is going to be make Secretary Clinton more likable. Is that right?

DONNA BRAZILE, Interim Chair, Democratic National Committee: I think, tonight, Tim Kaine is going to build upon what I believe was a terrific debate by Hillary Clinton last week.

She outlined her plans for the American people. She talked about job creation. She talked about keeping us safe and secure. She talked about making sure that college is more affordable. I think Mike Pence has a tough job tonight explaining to the American people all of the ridiculous things Donald Trump has said, from veterans, insulting veterans, to insulting women of a certain size, to banning Muslims.

I think Mike Pence has a more difficult job tonight explaining the differences between him and Donald Trump on so many issues. Tim Kaine tonight, who is a reasonable, down-home, what I call a great public servant, will be able to tell the American people what the Clinton-Kaine ticket will be able to do to build upon the great success and legacy of Barack Obama as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, again quoting Mr. Schlapp, he said he thinks what Tim Kaine is going to have to do is defend Secretary Clinton tonight, and he said, in that she’s been involved in — quote — “scandal after scandal.”

DONNA BRAZILE: I mean, what is the biggest scandal? Of not paying your tax, not releasing your taxes, saying that you’re smart because you don’t abide by the rules, like most of us, and making sure that we can pay for our roads, making sure that we can educate our children.

I think that’s the greatest scandal. I also think that Donald Trump’s comments again that he made overnight at 3:00 a.m., and there were different things he said on the campaign trail — how does Mike Pence defend that? How does he defend this notion that President Obama was somehow or another not born in America, the whole birther nonsense?

So, I think Tim Kaine’s job tonight is to focus his remarks on the American people. This is about the future, having a conversation with the American people. And I think Tim Kaine will be able to get the message across that we’re stronger together when we come together as Americans to solve our problems. And that’s what tonight’s debate is going to be about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned what Donald Trump has said on the trail.

We know that former President Bill Clinton said on the trail yesterday, made some comments about the health care reform law, Obamacare. He said that it’s a crazy system in which half the American people, hardworking people have seen their premiums go up, become more expensive.

He did walk that back a little bit today, but is that something that Hillary Clinton is going to have to explain herself?

DONNA BRAZILE: Well, look, I’m sure that Tim Kaine will be able to explain it tonight.

He’s been a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act. Over 20 million Americans now have health insurance because of that. Bill Clinton has been a champion for health care reform. So has Hillary Clinton over the years.

And so I think it’s important to understand that the law is good. It’s strong. People with preexisting conditions are now able to have access to health care. Millions of Americans who live below the poverty line have access to what I call life quality medicine, Medicaid expansion that I just saw in my home state of Louisiana.

So, what Bill Clinton was talking about, I believe, are the improvements that we’d like to see in expanding the marketplace, ensuring that people have that people have subsidies to be able to afford it.

And those Americans who own small businesses and others who are not able to get the subsidies that they need or to have what I call more marketplace protections, there’s no question that even President Obama said that we have to focus on cost containment.

But, look, the issue tonight is that the Democrats believe in expanding health care for all. We believe in making sure that people have lifesaving medicines. The Republicans want to repeal, and Donald Trump said he wants to replace it with something terrific that we don’t know what that means.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Donna Brazile, finally, we saw Hillary Clinton in last week’s debate with Donald Trump at the last minute, in effect, set a trap for him. She brought up the comments about Miss Universe. Maybe Tim Kaine does something like that tonight?

(LAUGHTER)

DONNA BRAZILE: You know, Tim is smart on his feet, and he also — he is bilingual. So maybe he will say it in Spanish.

But, regardless of how he says it, most Americans will see Tim Kaine as a man of principle, someone that Hillary Clinton picked because he’s a future leader, he’s a visionary, and he’s a strong leader.

And let me just say something. I think Tim Kaine is going to bring up the fact tonight that, when it comes to women in this society, we’re the majority of voters, the majority of college graduates. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine believe in equal pay, and Mike Pence doesn’t.

So there are many issues, whether it’s making — Mike Pence went out of his way to say that Planned Parenthood shouldn’t be funded. Mike Pence went out of his way to put forward policies that were discriminated against the LGBTQ community.

So, Tim Kaine has a great record. Hillary Clinton is a great leader, a visionary. I think, tonight, you are going to see a contrast in two candidates, one who is optimistic and has a plan for the future, and another one who is trying to drag us back to someplace in the past that nobody wants to go to. That’s Mike Pence.

Tim Kaine is the candidate of the future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Donna Brazile, it’s great to have you with us. Thank you.

DONNA BRAZILE: Always good to hear your voice and see you, Judy.

The post How the VP nominees are preparing to boost their campaigns in the debate appeared first on PBS NewsHour.