Vice presidential debates draw far less viewers than the presidential contests. They tend to be drastically less interesting and significantly less important. Yet tonight’s vice presidential debate could be more significant and more interesting than vice presidential contests in the past.

I’m not saying that tonight’s contest will be exciting, but I also don’t think it will induce in us a catatonic sense of utter tedium. Neither am I saying that tonight’s debate will “move the needle” very much in favor of one ticket or the other. It probably won’t.

But it does give the nation an opportunity to learn more about the men who are vying for the second highest executive office in the land. (This is especially significant with the Trump-Pence ticket because all signs point to Pence being the person who handles day-to-day administration and policy matters that Presidents often handle.) And it does give each ticket the opportunity to restore a little bit of the dignity each party has lost in the 2016 election cycle.

Here are five questions about the vice presidential nominees that will determine how helpful tonight’s debate will be:

  1. Will they address social and moral issues that were minimized or ignored in the first presidential debate?

Both candidates are committed Christians and both have an opportunity to speak to evangelical concerns such as religious liberty, the pro-life cause, marriage and family, and the black-and-blue shootings.

  1. Will they punch up or punch across?

Will the candidates spend their time arguing against their counterparts in this debate, or will they spend their time going after the nominee at the top of the opposing ticket? My guess is that they will punch up rather than punching across.

  1. How will they defend the nominee at the top of their ticket?

Both have the unenviable task of defending their running mates whose unfavorability ratings are in the nose bleed section of the polls. Mr. Kaine gets to explain the Democratic economic agenda in light of the concessions Mrs. Clinton made to Sanders voters, vouch for the trustworthiness of the Democratic nominee in light of the scandals that trail in her wake, and portray her as a warm and personable person.

Mr. Pence gets to assure the country that Mr. Trump actually has a steady hand and is ready to take the reins of the world’s lone superpower, explain to the nation that Mr. Trump is actually very interested in the responsibilities associated with being president, and deal with any number of the offensive comments Mr. Trump has made recently.

Wish them luck.

  1. Will they carry on an adult conversation?

The presidential debate was full of personal insults, sarcasm, and other garden-variety incivilities. Will the vice presidential candidates stoop to that level or will they keep it civil? Let’s hope they upgrade the conversation.


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