Well, so much for a mild-mannered vice-presidential debate.
Tim Kaine, when he was first introduced as Hillary Clinton‘s running mate in July, earned nicknames such as “Human Sweater Vest” and “America’s Stepdad” for his blandness. But on Tuesday, he played aggressive in the debate against Mike Pence, taking advantage of the format — which had the candidates seated at a table and meant to engage in conversation — to repeatedly interrupt Pence.
In answering the first question of the night, the Virginia senator noted that he has a son serving overseas in the Marines and wouldn’t trust Donald Trump in the White House.
“We trust Hillary Clinton — my wife and I — we trust her with the most important thing in our life,” he said. “We trust Hillary Clinton as commander-in-chief. The thought of Donald Trump as commander-in-chief scares us to death.”
At one point Kaine and Pence were making their points so forcefully — and at the same time — that Elaine Quijano had to remind them, “Gentlemen, the people at home cannot understand you when you speak over each other.”
Pence and Kaine jousted over numerous issues, including foreign policy. When Pence blamed Clinton for allowing the Middle East to become a place that is “literally spinning out of control,” an irritated Kaine interrupted, “You guys love Russia.”
Asked if the world today is safer from terrorism than it was eight years ago, Kaine noted that Osama bin Laden is dead and recounted what he saw as Clinton’s successes as Secretary of State, adding, “Donald Trump can’t start a Twitter war with Miss Universe without shooting himself in the foot … But he does have dangerous ideas.”
Referring to Trump’s past praise for foreign leaders, Kaine went on about Trump: “He’s got kind of a personal Mt. Rushmore: Vladimir Putin, Kim-Jong Un, Mohammar Khaddafi and Saddam Hussein.”
“Please,” said Pence, chuckling as he shook his head. “Oh, c’mon. Did you work on that one a long time because that had a lot of really creative lines in it?”
Replied Kaine, “Well I’m going to see if you can defend any of it.”
The two also tussled over Trump’s taxes and the notion that the real estate developer has taken advantage of tax deductions to avoid paying federal income taxes.
“He said, ‘That makes me smart,’ ” Kaine argued. “So it’s smart not to pay for our military…our veterans…our teachers. And I guess all of us who do pay for those things are stupid.”
Interjected Pence, “Senator, do you take all the deductions you’re entitled to? I do.”
Kaine did not reply.
Pence countered that the recent leak of Trump’s 1995 tax returns to the New York Times, which reported that Trump claimed almost a billion dollars in operating losses that could be used to avoid 18 years of federal income taxes, “showed he went through a very difficult time but he used the tax code just the way it’s supposed to be used and he did it brilliantly.”
“He’s created a business that’s worth billions of dollars,” Pence continued. To which Kaine jumped in with: “How do you know that?”