VP Debate ignores Indiana Governor’s disturbing history.
Elections aren’t decided by vice presidential candidates. That’s a good thing for Donald Trump. The Oct. 4 vice presidential debate proved Trump’s VP choice, Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN), was far better on the debate stage than Trump.
But then the bar has been set so low for the Republican candidates, all Pence had to do was come on stage, act like it was in fact a debate stage and not a Saturday Night Live skit, and he was bound to surpass his running mate and gain praise from fellow Republicans and the majority-white-male pundit class.
Pence was not held to that pesky standard the Democrats have been held to of telling the truth. Nor was he expected to address his record, which is as extremist as Trump’s, just differently so.
By standard metrics, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) should have won the debate. He was assertive – at times aggressive – in the job the VP candidate is tasked to perform at such debates: promote his running mate and point out the flaws of the other side’s nominee. Kaine did that well. Every single point Kaine made about Trump was true – and Pence denied each one, while also telling some whoppers of his own about Hillary Clinton, President Obama and the current state of foreign and domestic policy.
Despite all this prevarication and posturing – Pence would look into the camera, exasperated by Kaine’s dogged detailing of his and Trump’s most egregious commentary and policy – because this is not a normal election and standard metrics do not apply, Pence spent his 90 minutes lying and Kaine spent his trying to tie Pence to Trump. Both succeeded – Pence skittered away from Trump and when unable to, simply lied about him. Kaine brought up nearly every racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, homophobic thing Trump has said, so it was out there, whether Pence chose to address it or not.
Pence’s lies about his running mate generated a trending hashtag on Twitter, when Pence dismissed Kaine’s references to Trump calling Mexicans “rapists and murderers,” by saying “Senator, you whipped out that Mexican thing, again.” Words he will no doubt regret until Nov. 8.
First Trump calls Mexicans “rapists”. Now Pence says #ThatMexicanThing
Question: Is that a creative strategy to win the Latino vote?
— JORGE RAMOS (@jorgeramosnews) October 5, 2016
Latinx voters immediately anchored the domain name ThatMexicanThing.org to register Latino/Latina voters. Then the Clinton campaign set up ThatMexicanThing.com, which directs to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and voter registration.
Yet given the low expectations for the GOP side and the high ones for the Democrats, Pence, we’re told, won the night. That Mexican thing and all.
Not only was Pence given the night by the majority of pundits and polls, Pence was also given a run-for-president-in-2020 card by Republicans who have been unnerved by Trump and were grateful to see a standard-issue GOP white guy who seemed, well, rational, on the stage for 90 minutes.
The debate made history in that it was moderated by CBS’s Elaine Quijano, who became the first ever Asian-American newswoman to host such a debate. Quijano did a serviceable job of keeping the men in line, admonishing both regularly that the audience couldn’t understand them if they were talking over each other. Kaine interrupted 70 times, Pence 47. Quijano admonished them 23 times, according to CNN’s count. Still, Quijano still seemed far more in control of her debate than NBC anchor Lester Holt has seemed of his on Sept. 26.
What Quijano didn’t do was hold Pence to any kind of litmus about his own record, which is one of the most extreme in the nation. Trump’s bluster and omnipresence on Twitter has kept the focus on him. But Pence is a far-right ideologue who has had women and gays in his sights for nearly 20 years. Yet Quijano raised not one question about Pence’s record – although she did lob the obligatory “people don’t trust Hillary – explain” query to Kaine in the first ten minutes.
Kaine and Pence weren’t just there at the debate to talk about Clinton and Trump. They were there to explain why they would be just as good in the role of president if something befell the elected nominee. They had to prove their presidential bona fides.
Kaine did that. He opened with a seamless introduction to his own long history working against racism in a racially divided city, Richmond, in an often racially divided state, Virginia, where he began as a civil rights attorney and has held the office of Mayor, Lt. Governor, Governor and now senator. Kaine began by putting his own merits as VP nominee in context.
Kaine said, “It is so great to be back at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. This is a very special place. Sixty-five years ago, a young, courageous woman, Barbara Johns, led a walkout of her high school, Moton High School. She made history by protesting school segregation. She believed our nation was stronger together. And that walkout led to the Brown v. Board of Education decision that moved us down the path toward equality.”
On April 23, 1951, Johns was a 16 year-old high school girl in Farmville, VA. She led her classmates in a strike to protest segregation and that student strike at Moton High School. Her strike was the only student-led protest to be included in the historic 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education lawsuit that eventually struck down segregation in the schools.
After noting Johns’ role in Farmville, Kaine continued, “I am so proud to be running with another strong, history-making woman, Hillary Clinton, to be president of the United States. I’m proud because of her vision of stronger together….to build a community of respect, just like Barbara Johns tried to do 65 years ago.”
As a former civil rights attorney, Kaine has gravitas for many communities–people of color, women, LGBT. Among his invited guests at the debate were a lesbian couple, Carol Schall and Mary Townley, who were plaintiffs in a lawsuit that led to Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage being overturned. Their daughter, Emily Schall Townley, was also a guest.
Pence? His relationship to the women and LGBTQ people of Indiana as a six-term congressman and now governor is appalling. Pence is old-school conservative: He wants gays and lesbians in the closet if they refuse the horrors of conversion therapy, which he supports. He wants women perennially pregnant.
Pence and Trump are the only GOP nominees to speak at the Values Voter Summit, where even Gov. Sarah Palin declined to speak. The VVS is sponsored by Tony Perkins’ certified hate group, the Family Research Council, which is dedicated to eradicating LGBT rights. Pence is, unsurprisingly, a supporter of the Family Research Council.
Pence is no moderate. Trump chose him for his calm demeanor and his extremist politics and got both. That Pence was able to fool pretty much all of the people the whole of the time of the VP debate is indicative of what a smooth talker he is.
Quijano dropped the ball in not addressing these very disturbing facts about the man who, if Trump won, would likely be doing the major work of the presidency since Trump has shown little interest or aptitude for application to any kind of real work, which the presidency actually demands.
Pence is committed to overturning marriage equality and Roe v. Wade. He wants to see every gay man and lesbian in conversion therapy because he believes being gay is a choice. (To be fair, support for conversion therapy is part of the GOP platform, even though it is banned in several states.)
When five Planned Parenthood clinics were shut down in rural Southeastern Indiana – Pence is also a committed foe of Planned Parenthood and slashed their funding by two-thirds – HIV rates spiked because Planned Parenthood clinics were the only testing sites in those counties. None of the clinics offered abortion services. But they did offer services for Indiana’s burgeoning IV drug using population: Pence doesn’t like needle exchanges, either.
The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine wrote about the epidemic that was totally preventable. So did the Centers for Disease Control. It was a public health crisis and disaster and Pence has never taken responsibility for his involvement. And it speaks directly to the culture wars Pence is inflicting on his own state and on actual vulnerable human beings – women, LGBTQ be damned.
Quijano should have raised these issues. She never did. She never noted Pence’s long involvement with the conversion therapy movement nor that he wants to funnel public funds into the long-discredited practice. Nor did she note that Pence has supported a series of religious freedom laws that allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers.
Pence also supports repressive laws like HB2 in North Carolina and has campaigned there with Gov. Pat McCrory. In an interview last year with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, Pence was defensive about his own anti-gay legislation in Indiana.
“Is tolerance a two-way street or not?” he demanded, claiming that there had been an “avalanche of intolerance poured on our state” because of his religious freedom laws.
Stephanopoulos listened, then asked Pence, “Yes or no: If a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay or lesbian couple at their wedding, is that legal in Indiana?”
Pence claimed that “many states” have similar laws, as does the federal government. He claimed that both President Obama and former President Bill Clinton had signed similar legislation (not even remotely similar nor even recent). Pence insisted that America was “deeply troubled about government overreach and I’m proud that Indiana stepped forward.”
Pence also said during the debate he was proud to support Trump. Both statements are declarative about Pence’s politics and policies.
Toward the end of the VP debate, abortion filtered into the discourse. Quijano didn’t raise it–the issue evolved out of another question. Both Kaine and Pence are personally pro-life, but Kaine is pro-choice politically, noting that women should be able to decide for themselves what to do with their bodies.
Hillary Clinton is a staunch pro-choice candidate determined to overturn the punitive Hyde Amendment, which was passed by Congress 40 years ago. The Hyde Amendment bans the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except to save the life of the mother, or if the pregnancy arises from incest or rape and so penalizes poor and working class women who might be on federal grants from accessing abortion. During the primary Clinton was the only candidate to raise the issue of choice and reproductive rights, earning her the early endorsement of Planned Parenthood and NARAL.
— Victoria Brownworth (@VABVOX) October 5, 2016
Yet Pence’s repressive laws against abortion and women who seek abortions can’t be ignored. Purvi Patel is a victim of that. As Jessica Valenti wrote in The Guardian last year, “In July 2013 Patel went to the emergency room with heavy bleeding. She eventually admitted to miscarrying a stillborn fetus and placing it in a bag in a dumpster. (Patel lived with her religiously conservative parents who did not believe in premarital sex.) After police searched Patel’s cellphone, they found text messages that suggested she bought abortion-inducing drugs online.”
In April 2015, Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide. She is the first woman in the United States to ever be sentenced for such a crime. In Indiana. Under Pence. Who at the VP debate said neither he nor Trump wanted to punish women for having abortions–although both have said women should be punished for choosing to abort. What’s more, Pence has said he wants to see Roe v. Wade relegated to “the ash heap of history.”
What is forcing women to carry unwanted fetuses to term if not punishment? And what about that law Pence signed in March requiring women who have had abortions to bury or cremate aborted fetuses? Or when Pence channeled money earmarked for medical services for needy families into clinics that counseled women against abortion? Or when Pence demanded women have transvaginal ultrasounds and view the results before having abortions?
Pence is concerning in many other ways not directly involving women and LGBT people. He believes creationism should be taught in the schools and doesn’t believe in evolution or climate change–actual science. He spoke about these issues on the floor of the House while in Congress.
What matters for pretty much everyone who isn’t a straight white Christian in Trump’s and Pence’s world was neatly summed up by Michael Cohen at the Boston Globe who wrote on Oct. 5 about the hot takes on Pence’s performance: “If there is one takeaway from last night’s affair, it is that reporters have yet to fully grapple with the almost pathological dishonesty of the Republican presidential ticket.”
Pathological dishonesty sums it up. When Kaine held Pence’s feet to the fire of Trump’s birtherism, outrageous misogyny and even “that Mexican thing, again,” Pence either ignored the questions or outright lied about Trump’s record and categorically refused to discuss his own. He actually said it was the Clinton-Kaine ticket that was slandering people, referencing Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment last month. Yet it was just a day before the VP debate that Trump was still attacking former Miss Universe Alicia Machado on Twitter as fat and a porn queen. And throughout the VP debate, Trump was tweeting–and re-tweeting insults about Kaine.
It’s 36 days until the election. Even if you aren’t a woman and aren’t LGBT and aren’t an immigrant, you should be deeply troubled by that pathological dishonesty as well as these Draconian theories and policies Trump-Pence are promoting.
Yes, Pence put a prettier face on the monster at the VP debate. But that terrorist clown is still there, and could be our next president. Kaine summed the debate up in one tweet:
“He’s asking everybody to vote for somebody he cannot defend.” —Tim on Mike Pence #VPDebate
— Senator Tim Kaine (@timkaine) October 5, 2016
And of that we should all be quite definitely afraid.