- - Wednesday, October 5, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Undercard matches don’t stir the blood like a title bout, but sometimes an exhibition by ambitious challengers is better entertainment than a ponderous slugfest of heavyweights. Millions chose the arena Monday night where the two major-party candidates for vice president went at each other with spirit and sometimes moxie.

Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence demonstrated why political brawlers Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump count on them as worthy stand-ins in their face-off for the presidency. It was the Virginian’s irresistible force meeting the Hoosier’s unmovable object, and something had to give. That something was CBS moderator Elaine Quijano, who was unable to restrain the red-tied and hot-mannered Mr. Kaine from interrupting his adversary more than 70 times. The unflappable Mr. Pence in cool blue neckwear won on style points.

Topics ranged across presidential leadership, trustworthiness, national debt, Social Security, race relations, immigration, terrorism, Syria, Russia. But for Mr. Kaine, it was all about Donald Trump’s failure, so far, to make public his tax returns. If taxes were the topic that rings the Liberty Bell in the hearts of Americans, April 15 would be their favorite day, not their least favored. Mr. Kaine’s show-me-the-money rants invited the commercial break that would never come. Mr. Kaine did nothing to exploit a home field advantage; Longwood University, the evening’s host, is in rural Farmville just 65 miles south of Richmond, where he served as governor.

Mike Pence showed he’s everything Donald Trump is not — organized in content, dispassionate in delivery, respectful of his opponent and above all, displaying the trustworthiness of a youth minister, which he once was. He’s no firebrand like the Donald, who can bring a stadium to its feet with his signature vow to “make America great again,” but a firefighter who smothers inflammatory invective with smooth sincerity.

Both men spoke of a personal Christian faith that informs their public acts, and in keeping with political convention of the past four decades, the conversation turned to abortion. Despite his work as a missionary in Central America in his younger days, Mr. Kaine is viewed by some in his church as a CINO — Catholic in name only — claiming personal adherence to the central Catholic belief in the sanctity of life but backing “reproductive rights,” the preferred euphemism for abortion, including late-term, or partial-birth abortion. “We support the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience and make their own decision about pregnancy,” he said of the Clinton-Kaine ticket.

In contrast, Mr. Pence touted Indiana as the nation’s most adoption-friendly state, and for his own part, unabashedly pro-life. “For me, my faith informs my life. For me, it all begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value of all human life.”

John Nance Garner observed that the office of vice president “is not worth a bucket of warm spit.” Both Messrs. Kaine and Pence demonstrated a higher regard for the office, and only Mr. Pence showed the composure to carry off a spirited fight for it without losing his cool and his smile.

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