Kaine and Pence Have Nothing to Prove

The stage is set.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Every vice president of the modern era, by tradition if not law, must be declared the most influential one ever. But that’s not necessarily a reason to watch Tuesday’s upcoming vice-presidential debate between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence.

Rather, the debate between Kaine and Pence -- a former governor and current senator from Virginia, and a former House member and current governor from Indiana, respectively -- should be worthwhile simply as an exercise in civics. Both men can use this debate to show how political leaders should behave. They can be critical yet decent and, equally important, demonstrate their familiarity with the issues.

The traditional role of the vice-presidential candidate is that of attack dog, leveling charges against the top of the opposite ticket. This tends to make the vice-presidential debate a slightly grubbier version of the presidential debates, during which the principals must draw clear contrasts without sinking into the gutter.

Neither Kaine nor Pence is likely to stoop lower than Donald Trump did repeatedly over the course of the long Republican primary, and again in his debate against Hillary Clinton last week. In a performance defined by specific falsehoods and general recklessness, Trump finally appears to have gone too far; most polls show a post-debate swing toward his opponent. But the damage that his self-serving conspiracy theories and wild accusations have inflicted on democratic norms and rational political discourse is severe.

In elections past, Kaine and Pence would have merited an especially careful vetting. Clinton and Trump are among the oldest presidential nominees in history. Either vice presidential candidate must be prepared to assume the duties of the presidency.

This year, the need to demonstrate their fitness for office is less pressing. It’s all too clear that either candidate is far more qualified than the Republican presidential nominee.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.