What to expect in a Pence-Kaine debate showdown

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as we look forward to tomorrow night’s vice presidential debate, I’m joined by our Politics Monday team, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

So, hello to both of you.

Only six weeks to go, tomorrow counting, until this election. Let’s talk about these vice presidential candidates.

Amy, this is not a contest that’s generated nearly as much, this debate, interest as the first presidential debate. How much is at stake?

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Yes.

It’s almost impossible for these two to generate any more enthusiasm. Right? I mean, you have two candidates in Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump that have outsized personalities, that suck up the oxygen in the room completely.

These two candidates haven’t just simply been overshadowed when it comes to the debates, but they have been overshadowed on the campaign trail throughout the course of this campaign. And, as you pointed out, these are already two candidates that aren’t particularly known.

But, look, I think the stakes are pretty high here, especially for Mike Pence. It is going to be his challenge tomorrow night to keep the attention away from all the problems that Donald Trump has had this last week or so, many of which have been self-inflicted, and to focus back on the issues and the message that Trump and the Trump campaign would like to be focused on, mainly to prosecute the case against Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the path forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, so, Tam, if that’s what Mike Pence has to go, what does Tim Kaine have to do?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Well, he has to come out and not have any sunlight between himself and Hillary Clinton, which he has done a very good job of falling in line.

They didn’t necessarily agree on TPP, but, by the time he was announced as V.P., he — they agreed. And I think also he intends to come out and try to show separation between Mike Pence and Donald Trump, and show that there are areas where Pence and Trump do not see eye to eye, where, you know, Pence has said that this isn’t a name-calling kind of campaign, at the same time that Donald Trump was calling people names on Twitter.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and we know vice presidential debates may get attention at the time, but ultimately they have not had a great deal of effect. But we will see.

AMY WALTER: Yes.

No, I think there’s still — it’s still going to be an important discussion. And the question is, for how long will we have this discussion? Will by the next morning there be another tweetstorm or another front-page story that detracts us from what came out of this debate?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you both have referred to Donald Trump’s controversies of the last week, Tam, most recently over his income taxes.

New York Times broke the story over the weekend.

TAMARA KEITH: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He lost over $900 million on his — indicated on his return, in 1995, suggesting he could have gone 18 years without paying any income taxes.

Is this something that’s likely to affect this campaign?

TAMARA KEITH: This is a fascinating question to me.

The Hillary Clinton campaign is already out with an ad criticizing him about this. In the last debate, he said, “It makes me smart.” And the ad now says, if you’re smart, what does that say about the rest of us?

But Donald Trump is out today saying, yes, I took advantage of the system. That’s the system. And I can fix it because I know the system.

And this $900 million loss in a single year is part of his story. It’s part of the story that he’s been telling about himself, that he went on tough times and then he built himself back up and was able to become this successful businessman once again from the ashes of his previous businesses.

So, it’s unclear whether this changes the narrative in any way. And it almost feeds the story that Donald Trump has been telling about himself all along.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that how you see it?

AMY WALTER: Yes, or that’s it’s sort of already — to your point, it’s already, like, baked in, into how voters perceive him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

AMY WALTER: And the reality is — and you have seen this on the campaign trail, too — you talk to voters about his issues, whether it is — because we have known for a while now, thanks to public records, that there were years where he didn’t pay taxes.

We know that he had many of his products outsourced to foreign companies. These are the sorts of things that should hurt a traditional candidate. Obviously, somebody like Mitt Romney was by making these statements.

TAMARA KEITH: Severely by it.

AMY WALTER: Severely by this.

And yet he still has tremendous support among people who see him as a success, and to the point that Tam made, that he’s saying the only person who can destroy the system, a rigged system, is somebody who’s benefited from a rigged system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk quickly about some of the other stories that have been out there about Donald Trump.

Tam, the Associated Press report today that the women who work for him on the reality TV show “The Apprentice” say that he used demeaning remarks against a number of them, used sexist language.

Amy, and the ongoing story about Miss Universe, that is something that has just dominated the news for the last number of days. Are we watching — and then some polls have come out showing some damage to him in some states.

Is this the kind of thing that is — if the taxes aren’t going to resonate, what about this?

AMY WALTER: Well, throughout this campaign, what we have seen is, wherever the focus is, wherever the spotlight is, that hurts that candidate.

And so, a couple of weeks ago, it was about Hillary Clinton, and it was about the pneumonia and the video and the FBI and the e-mails, and you saw her numbers sink.

Now we have had a very bad couple of weeks for Donald Trump. His numbers start to get a hit. And the question, of course, is, how long will this continue? And, more importantly, how long does Donald Trump help it continue?

He’s done a masterful job throughout this campaign of taking a one- or a two-day bad story and turning it into a weeklong terrible story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But can you draw a line, Tamara, from all this focus on this and how he’s doing?

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, well, I think that you can clearly say that the Alicia Machado story, the Miss Universe story, and the story about “The Apprentice” and the possible sexual harassment on the set, that is already feeding into a narrative that has existed for a long time, that the things that he said on “The Howard Stern Show” — Donald Trump is not performing well with women.

He is not performing well with college-educated Republican women even, is not performing as well as he should be. So, I think that we can’t say that it hasn’t had an effect. It seems like there is an effect. It’s just sort of baked in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re saying it just feeds the narrative that’s already out there.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, Hillary Clinton has her own worries, Amy, and the polls continue to show difficult getting younger voters excited, wanting to vote.

I was just in Georgia this weekend talking to a number of young voters who just say they’re not going to vote, even among African-Americans.

AMY WALTER: Yes.

I think Hillary Clinton’s biggest challenge is the fact that she’s an emblem of the status quo at a time when people dislike the status quo more than anything. And I think her biggest challenge with younger voters isn’t that she’s not liberal enough, but it’s that she’s saying the system will be able to solve your problems, when the very people she’s trying to appeal to say the system is rigged and broken.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Tam, her campaign’s aware of this?

TAMARA KEITH: Obviously, they’re aware of it. They have been doing a lot of events that are targeted at millennials. Her message is targeted at millennials.

On Friday, no one noticed because Donald Trump tweeted a lot the night before in the middle of the night. But she did a big rollout related to national service, which is targeted at the very hopes of millennials to give back to their country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we are going to leave it there, a whole lot going on, six weeks to go.

Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you both.

AMY WALTER: You’re welcome.

TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

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