What Pence and Kaine need to do in their only VP face-off

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GWEN IFILL: For more on tonight’s debate, we’re joined now by syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.

Hey, Amy, did you notice something I just noticed with Donna Brazile, which is, when she was asked about something that Bill Clinton said, which is widely interpreted to be a gaffe, she responded by saying Tim Kaine will respond that tonight?

AMY WALTER: Tim Kaine can help clean that up.


AMY WALTER: Cleanup in aisle six.


AMY WALTER: Bring Tim Kaine over there.

Look, both of these candidates were brought on, Tim Kaine and Mike Pence, were brought on to be stabilizers for Hillary Clinton and Donald for Trump, for different reasons, for Donald Trump, literally a stabilizer, in that both his personality and his ability to talk to that core conservative base that Matt Schlapp was talking about, so to make them feel better.

And Tim Kaine was there to sort of stabilize the Hillary Clinton — not expand her base, but hold on to a lot of her base, and also to prove to be a very different kind of candidate without the baggage that Hillary Clinton comes with.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, how do you see the mission of these two men at — the second man on the ticket in both cases tonight?

MARK SHIELDS: Obviously, as said earlier, not to make any mistakes, but most of all, Mike Pence has a tougher task.

He does — stop the bleeding or however you want to put it. It’s been a terrible week for the Trump campaign ever since the first debate. He’s been assigned the task of being the explainer-in-chief. He’s had to clean up in the past after Mr. and Mrs. Khan. He said, we honor Gold Star parents. I mean, he said that to a partisan crowd.

He’s time and again had to sort of right the wrongs. And I think that is his — to try the change the narrative as much as he can.

Tim Kaine, it’s interesting. The happiest I have ever seen Hillary Clinton in any public setting was the day that she chose Tim Kaine. She was beyond giddy. She was just happy. And she had somebody she could totally depend upon as a partner. And I think it was the best decision of her campaign, in the sense of, you couldn’t get a Republican to say anything bad about him.

In Washington and the toxicity, to have somebody like Tim Kaine — and so I think his job, again, is going to be the explainer, or defender, or whatever, but to — I would just remind people, Tim Kaine in 2007 at Virginia Tech. And I have never seen anybody handle a public situation…

GWEN IFILL: After the shooting.

MARK SHIELDS: Just after the tragedy of 32 people being murdered by a deranged person with a gun. And I have just never seen anybody handle it better.


Michael Gerson, so, vice presidential debate, do they ever help, or are they more likely to hurt?

MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: Well, it’s interesting. They’re often memorable. They’re seldom consequential, don’t really determine the outcome.


MICHAEL GERSON: And this is a strange one, though, in a certain way. These are not strange men.

It’s a strange circumstance, where the republic might be better served, and a lot of people might agree that both tickets could be flipped and actually have more appealing candidates.

GWEN IFILL: They say that about the Libertarian ticket, too.


So, that could be — that’s interesting, because it’s an indictment of sorts of the system, that our primary system has chosen two of the least popular politicians in America. But the selection, the people they selected as vice president are actually very respected in their party, knowledgeable people, so, you know, the selected candidates better than the elected candidates, maybe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Amy, when all is said and done tonight, we don’t know what’s going to happen, does the election, does the direction of this election change after tonight?

AMY WALTER: Well, remember, in 2012, after Barack Obama’s first — after the first presidential debate, he was widely panned for having an off night. And you saw Democrats panic. And the polls started to dip.

And it was Joe Biden’s job to go in and basically reassure Republicans — I mean Democrats — reenergize Democrats, keep them — keep their chin up. That’s what Mike Pence will have to do tonight as well, is to reassure a lot of those Republicans who are worried, as well as go on the offense, something that Donald Trump didn’t do well in the first debate.

I actually think this — while it might not be consequential, I think we might see a much more aggressive debate than we’re expecting, because Mike Pence really does have to put Kaine and the Hillary Clinton campaign back on its heels. And so this may not be the nice, genteel, lovely sort of experience that people are expecting.

GWEN IFILL: Briefly, which one is better equipped to do that job, that Swiffer job, that cleanup job tonight?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Pence has the tougher task, whether, in fact, he can do it.

It’s more immediate and urgent that he do it than Kaine do it.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes. No, I agree with that.

I talked to some of the people that prepared Pence today. And they need to explain, because they have to respond to charges, but then not give get into the quicksand of just explaining, because that would be a loss.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We are going to be all watching closely. You will all be here with us in just about two-and-a-half-hours from now.

And we ask all of you watching, tune in at 9:00 p.m. Eastern for our special live coverage of the vice presidential debate.

And, online, you can follow along at PBS.org/NewsHour for more in-depth analysis.

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