Some of my Donald Trump supporting friends contacted me last night to get my take on the debate. One was even smug enough to say, “See? I told you this was a great ticket.”
I didn’t watch it. The VP debates have been and likely always will be political theater. That’s not to say that the Vice President isn’t important. It’s to say that their opinions aren’t important. They must possess the right character traits to espouse the message for the party during campaigns and for the country once elected. Otherwise, their personal feelings, skills, talents, and even their failures are irrelevant. Their ability to represent without harm is the only real quality a Vice President must possess.
There’s no need to go into the lack of real power that the Vice President has. If you have a basic understanding of the infrastructure of the U.S. government and its executive branch, you know that the day-to-day role of the Vice President is more symbolic than anything else. They break ties in the Senate (which almost never happens with the current rules in place). That’s pretty much it as far as actual policy or actions.
Their secondary roles are usually more important. They are often one of the top advisers to the President. With these two candidates, there is serious doubt about how much advising they’ll be able to do. Hillary Clinton has baskets of advisers that she trusts more than Tim Kaine. Donald Trump has one primary adviser (himself) and everyone else is there to blame when he makes mistakes. Pence will be able to help Trump understand the logistics of being President, but only if Trump fails miserably early on will he take Pence’s advise on actual policy.
Another important unofficial secondary roll is as the chief diplomat in special circumstances, particularly when the Secretary of State isn’t high enough on the food chain. President Obama sent Joe Biden to Japan when we were caught with our hands in their cookie jar, for example.
The single most important role of the Vice President is as the backup quarterback. It’s a role that must be taken seriously; at any moment this is the person who will lead the free world. That alone makes the choice of Vice President important, but it’s more of a checkbox than an asset. In other words, is the Vice President acceptable as a leader of the nation in the event of an emergency? Mike Pence fills that role very nicely.
Here’s the important thing to remember: having the “qualified” box checked by a running mate is not a reason to support a Presidential candidate. If the box isn’t checked, then it’s a reason to be skeptical of a candidate, but checking the box gives no weight to whether or not to vote for that ticket. It’s covering the “just in case” scenario. It’s not something to highlight in the decision-making process. Again, the Vice President has no real power and very little influence as long as the President remains in power.
The VP is the guy holding the clipboard on the sidelines. They’re the person who, in the vast majority of circumstances, has absolutely no impact on the game. In fact, backup quarterbacks are even more important for achieving their goal because they get in the game a heck of a lot more often than the Vice President. In nearly a quarter millennium, it has happened nine times.
Judging by reactions to the VP debate, it would seem that many Republicans wish Mike Pence was at the top of the ticket instead of Trump. That’s not the case and hoping for some sort of circumstance that would make that happen is both ridiculous and potentially sordid.
As long as the Vice President is capable of taking over, the box is checked. There is no reason to grant any more importance to the running mate’s qualities outside of their ability to fill the role in the rare instance of ascension. Vote based upon the top of the ticket.