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Visiting The Gallery Of Vice Presidents — Yes, They Do Matter

WASHINGTON — Mike Pence, the Republican Indiana governor, showed more style in the vice presidential debate against earnest Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. So there’s work to do.

Attend closely to each candidate. Ask how the Number Two plays on the national stage and how much the stakes matter. More than you might think. When the Veep steers the ship, at times it’s right into the rocks. Whatever your political party, remember Sarah Palin, the unserious pick made by John McCain, the elderly 2008 Republican standard-bearer. That told us, right quick, about his wild judgment.

Teddy Roosevelt is the sunniest member of the club who succeeded a president who died in office. That was a century ago. Since April 1945, Democrat Harry S. Truman, the ailing Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vice president, has been seen as another fortunate successor.

Sure, we get lucky across the stepping stones of time. They say Gerald Ford — the only Veep ever to succeed a president who resigned — was a decent chap in the House and as president for two years.

So listen for the voices on the zeitgeist. The first 11 presidents, from George Washington to James Polk, elected in 1844, came in pairs, though Thomas Jefferson had to do one better, with a bunch.

Early leaders in their ambition and lust for power, Jefferson had two Virginia proteges, James Madison and James Monroe, succeed him. The key word is “Virginia,” for they owned slave plantations within riding distance, of course. Nothing but the best for Jefferson.

This created a Virginia presidential dynasty for, wait for it, 24 straight years.

Jefferson had two vice presidents, one of whom was the elegant Aaron Burr, who would have made a better commander in chief than the hapless Madison. The fourth president fled the capital as the British army burned it in 1814.

Unlike Jefferson or Madison, Burr was a Revolutionary Army officer. But he was a younger New Yorker who tied Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election. Jefferson had an enemies list, too, and intrigued against Burr, keeping up the famous charm.

Setting another precedent for the later Bush family, Adams brought his namesake son, John Quincy Adams, to the highest office in 1824, shortly before the father died. But slaveholder and general Andrew Jackson “Old Hickory” beat him in a bitter rematch.

Andrew Jackson’s vice president, Martin Van Buren, succeeded him peacefully, just as Yankee John Adams, the first vice president, succeeded the general on horseback, George Washington. Different as they were, the first Federalists tried to set an example for future generations.

I might add that Jackson groomed a protege to the presidency, James Polk, after he left office. Jackson and Jefferson were presidential history’s only “doubleheaders.”

Then there was beloved Abraham Lincoln, who worked the land himself. But a field trip reminded me he made a near-fatal choice in his 1864 running mate.

Oh, the winds of history blew me away to a stark, chilling sight: a military courtroom. The “Lincoln conspirators” were tried here, with a makeshift gallows built outside at Fort McNair. Four assassination conspirators were convicted and hanged in the summer of 1865. The 16th president was the first one to die in office.

As Civil War guns were stilled, Andrew Johnson, the vice president, could not have been less like Lincoln. The roughhewn, tactless Tennessean was not one to heal wounds of war. Hated by North and South alike, he was impeached.

You know the scene: Ford’s Theatre on a spring night as actor John Wilkes Booth stormed President Lincoln’s box and shot him behind the ear.

It seems the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy. “Macbeth” was Lincoln’s favorite.

The four — one was a woman, innkeeper Mary Surratt — were treated harshly, on Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s orders: kept wrapped in hot blankets and hoods in Washington’s heavy heat. The nation’s blood had spilled again; Lincoln was the final casualty of the Civil War.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit

Wingnuts! Veep Debate Revealed Extremism Of Pence’s Republican Party

The second big fall debate, featuring the vice-presidential candidates, may not change many voters’ minds because it was a strange affair. Democrat Tim Kaine seemed over-rehearsed but dominated on the substance of issues, while Republican Mike Pence was polished but lied repeatedly, and kept accusing Kaine of insulting Donald Trump, when he was in fact quoting him.

Pence’s biggest lie was declaring that Trump was no fan of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. He also denied Trump would try to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and their U.S.-born children, even ridiculing Kaine for bringing up that “Mexican thing again,” referring to Trump’s racist slurs. Pence also denied Trump was fine with more nations acquiring nuclear weapons, which again, is something Trump has said.

Kaine, who did not hit his stride until midway through the 90-minute debate, needled Pence to defend Trump’s indefensible stances, which Pence repeatedly evaded. Kaine reminded viewers that Trump’s sons say they have major investments in Russia, posing big conflicts of interest. He said Democrats want comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship, not a “deportation nation” like the Republicans want. And Kaine said Trump’s statements about having more nuclear-armed states are prescriptions for a far more dangerous world.

If you got past the interruptions, crosstalk, moderator’s inability to steer the discussion and spectacle of Pence saying that electing a strongman would solve the country’s problems, the debate was a striking reminder of how deeply Democrats and Republicans disagree, and how the GOP—as epitomized by the agenda laid out by Pence, a former member of the House Republican leadership—has become a party dominated by right-wing extremists.

These days, it’s easy to overlook the Republicans in Congress when Trump has dominated the news for more than a year. But Pence’s stances are a potent reminder of what a Republican-majority Congress and White House would do if given the chance.

Pence said women’s reproductive rights, upheld by the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, would fall. He did not deny he was a proponent of privatizing Social Security and cutting Medicare while in the House and still favors those policies. He promised to cut taxes for the wealthy, and did not deny opposing minimum wage increases. He promised to end the “war on coal,” which means denying and ignoring the climate crisis. He pledged to repeal Obamacare and all of President Obama’s executive orders—which include many workplace, environmental and LGBT protections. He said the military needs a major infusion of new weaponry and a commander in chief willing to use America’s might to dominate global adversaries.

Kaine, in contrast, gave one of the campaign’s most eloquent defenses of reproductive rights, saying what he believes as a religious person should not be imposed on the public. He said Social Security could be expanded by raising the cap on income taxes contributing to it. He said Clinton has targeted tax increases on wealthier Americans to pay for a major domestic stimulus, from rebuilding transportation, energy and broadband infrastructure to making public universities tuition-free for most households.

Their differences didn’t stop there. On criminal justice and police reform, Pence and Kaine both endorsed community policing, but Republican Pence said Democrats and civil rights activists should respect police and pledged a “law and order” strategy, including bringing back so-called stop-and-frisk, a tactic in which police racially profile citizens. Democrat Kaine, in contrast, said that institutional racism is real in arrests, prosecutions and sentencing, and that background checks for gun buyers are needed. He chided Pence for denying the reality of institutional racism, saying you cannot solve a hard problem if you cannot talk about it.

When the debate turned to immigration, Pence refused to explicitly say that Trump would build a wall along the Mexican border and arrest and deport upwards of 16 million migrants and their family members. Instead, he accused Kaine and the Democrats of stooping to a campaign of insults, when, as almost everybody paying attention knows, Trump’s insults and character assassinations have been the election’s most defining feature.

Kaine pointedly noted that the Democrats are calling for the same immigration reform policies that Republican President Ronald Reagan adopted in 1986, a statement Pence did not respond to.

That back and forth—more talking past each other than rebutting points—bled into the foreign policy arena, where, as Kaine pointed out, Trump’s solutions would ban entire creeds or nationalities from entering or visiting America, from Mexicans to Muslims to Syrians. Pence’s answer was it’s better to be safe than sorry, regardless of the country’s history as a nation of immigrants or the Constitution’s protection of individual rights.

Pence repeatedly said that the U.S. was weakened by the Obama administration, including Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, and that is why there is more chaos in the Middle East, why Russia is expanding its military domination along its borders, and why China is doing the same in the Pacific. He said all that would change once the world faced a U.S. president who was tough and commanded respect. Kaine countered that the Obama administration has solved some big problems by killing Osama bin Laden, negotiating a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia and making the recent nuclear deal with Iran. When asked why Russia was so difficult, Kaine responded that Putin was a dictator, but the U.S. had to work with him on some issues while opposing him on others. He said Clinton, not Trump, knows how to negotiate that line.

As the debate went on, the details flying back and forth became a blur. The moderator, CBS News’ Elaine Quijano, tried to corral the candidates but could not stop them from jumping to any point they wanted to pursue. In the end, the most poignant exchange might have come from her question seeking an example of where their private religious faith conflicted with their public stances on issues while holding elected office.

Kaine said he personally opposes the death penalty but was forced to carry out executions as Virginia’s governor, as he had pledged when running for that office. Pence, in contrast, spoke of becoming a born-again Christian in college and using any power at his disposal to protect the rights of unborn children, leading to a very aggressive record on opposing choice. If elected, Pence said he would work to repeal Roe v. Wade, prompting Kaine to interrupt and ask why Trump said women seeking abortions should be punished.

Pence surprisingly admitted Trump was “not a polished politician,” trying to dismiss the remark. Kaine quickly quoted a biblical verse saying you should believe what someone says when they speak from their heart: “When Trump says this, he is telling you who he is.”

“Why don’t you trust women to make this choice for themselves?” he asked Pence. “Why doesn’t Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves?”

Pence replied that a country will be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable, echoing an oft-repeated line from the anti-choice movement.

The debate ended as abruptly as it began, with both candidates painting very different pictures of America—one hopeful, one failing—as the presidential candidates do every day on the campaign trail. What was most striking was not just that the vice presidential nominees were actually delving into policy details and very different agendas, but how the Republican Party, devoid of Trump, remains a party dominated by right-wingers who would wreak havoc domestically and abroad.

Reprinted by permission from Alternet. Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting (AlterNet Books, 2008).

IMAGE: Governor Mike Pence of Indiana speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Trump Backs Off Fulsome Praise Of Russia’s Putin After Debate

By Emily Stephenson

HENDERSON, Nev. (Reuters) – U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump backed off from praising Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, saying he was unsure of his relationship with the Russian president who he has described as a better leader than President Barack Obama.

The day after running mate Mike Pence appeared to break ranks with Trump during a vice presidential debate and called Putin “a small and bullying leader,” Trump adjusted his own previously warm rhetoric toward the Russian.

“I don’t love (Putin), I don’t hate. We’ll see how it works. We’ll see,” Trump told supporters during a campaign stop in the swing state of Nevada. “Maybe we’ll have a good relationship. Maybe we’ll have a horrible relationship. Maybe we’ll have a relationship right in the middle.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has criticized Trump, who often praises Putin, as being too cozy with the Russian leader and questioned the Republican’s business interests in Russia. Those charges were repeated by her vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine during a debate with Pence on Tuesday.

In response, Pence denounced Putin for his interference in Syria’s civil war and support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The small and bullying leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States,” Pence said. “The greatest nation on earth just withdraws from talks about a ceasefire, while Vladimir Putin puts a missile defense system in Syria.”

The vice presidential encounter set the table for a second presidential debate on Sunday in St. Louis between Clinton and Trump, who needs to rebound from a rocky performance in his first debate, one that gave Clinton a boost in national opinion polls with the Nov. 8 Election Day only five weeks away.

In Nevada, Trump suggested Russia could be a valuable ally in the fight against Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIS.

“I will say if we get along with Russia and Russia went out with us and knocked the hell out of ISIS, that’s okay with me, folks,” he said.

Trump celebrated a strong debate performance by Pence, the governor of Indiana, and said his running mate had won on style and on the issues.

“He’s getting tremendous reviews from me and everybody,” Trump told a group of pastors and leaders gathered at a Christian academy in Las Vegas.

The encounter between Pence and Kaine, a U.S. senator from Virginia, was the only such debate between the vice presidential contenders, and the two spent most of their time attacking each other’s running mates.

For more than 90 minutes at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, Pence sought to project an image as a reassuring presence, in contrast with the bombastic Trump, while Kaine tried to frighten voters away from Trump and make Clinton seem more trustworthy.

A CNN/ORC snap poll declared Pence the winner with 48 percent support, compared with 42 percent for Kaine, who frequently interrupted his opponent.

The television audience for the debate was 35.6 million viewers, according to preliminary data, about half the number who watched the first encounter between Trump and Clinton.

Republican strategists said Pence’s strong debate performance could provide lessons for Trump on how to approach the second debate – if he was willing or able to learn.

“Trump should hopefully learn a lesson – don’t get angry, don’t lose your cool, answer the question you want to answer,” Republican strategist John Feehery said. “The biggest thing is to not get rattled and be able to smile when you are attacked.”

Clinton met with advisers at her Washington, D.C., home on Wednesday and did not appear on the campaign trail. An aide said she spoke by phone with Kaine and congratulated him on his debate performance.

“Mike Pence didn’t want to defend Donald Trump, and as Senator Kaine said, if you can’t defend the person at the top of the ticket, how can you ask people to vote for you,” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told reporters outside her house.

(This story corrects quote in 3rd paragraph to put Putin in parentheses)

(Additional reporting by Amanda Becker; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Alistair Bell)

IMAGE: Republican nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Henderson, Nevada October 5, 2016.  REUTERS/David Becker

Debate: Pence Pushes Harder Line On Russia Than Putin’s Pal Trump

By Ginger Gibson and Alana Wise

FARMVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “small and bullying leader” on Tuesday and condemned his actions in Syria, taking a harder line than Donald Trump at a contentious debate with Democratic rival Tim Kaine.

Pence’s denunciation of Putin for his interference in the Syrian civil war and support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was a departure from the frequent praise of Putin by Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, who has called him a better leader than U.S. President Barack Obama and said he could work with him.

“The small and bullying leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States,” Pence said. “The greatest nation on earth just withdraws from talks about a ceasefire, while Vladimir Putin puts a missile defense system in Syria.”

The encounter between Pence and Kaine, who is number two to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, was the only such debate between the vice presidential contenders before the Nov. 8 election, and the two spent most of their time attacking each other’s running mates.

For more than 90 minutes at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, neither Pence nor Kaine appeared to deliver a knockout punch. Pence sought to project an image as a reassuring presence to the bombastic Trump, while Kaine tried to frighten voters away from Trump and make Clinton seem more trustworthy.

A CNN/ORC snap poll declared Pence the winner with 48 percent support, compared with Kaine’s 42 percent.

It set the table for a second presidential debate looming on Sunday in St. Louis between Clinton and Trump, who needs to rebound from a rocky performance from his first debate, one that gave Clinton a boost in national opinion polls with Election Day only five weeks away.

Pence’s comments raised eyebrows among establishment Republicans as to whether the governor of Indiana was breaking ranks with Trump on Russia. Trump himself earlier in the day condemned Russian bombing in Syria after the United States withdrew from ceasefire talks with Russia.

Conservatives who do not support Trump liked Pence’s view.

“Pence’s foreign policy is fine. Too bad it isn’t Trump’s,” tweeted Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine.

Pence said “the provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength” and that if Russia chooses to continue to be involved in “barbaric” attacks on civilians, “the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime.”

Pence’s blunt comments on Russia, more in line with thinking by traditional Republicans, came in response to Kaine’s charge that Trump was too cozy with the Russian leader.

Kaine, a U.S. senator from Virginia, said Clinton would be tough in dealing with Putin.

“Donald Trump, again and again, has praised Vladimir Putin. And it’s clear that he has business dealings with Russian oligarchs who are very connected to Putin,” Kaine said.

Democrats were quick to point out the discrepancy between Trump and his running mate on Russia.

“All of a sudden we hear tough talk about Vladimir Putin. It’s the exact opposite of what Donald Trump has been saying,” said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook.

Pence’s toughened position on Russia gave him an opening to declare that Clinton had been outfoxed when she attempted a U.S. reset in relations with Russia when she was Obama’s secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

Bickering between Kaine and Pence was so intense that they frequently talked over each other. Kaine was seen by television commentators as being overprepared and overeager as he circled back to Trump’s refusal to release his tax records at almost every opportunity.

Kaine called the Republican presidential nominee a danger to U.S. national security and someone who denigrates women and minorities and appears to pay little in federal taxes.

Kaine drew Pence’s ire by hearkening back to a remark from former Republican President Ronald Reagan that some fool or maniac with a nuclear weapon could trigger a catastrophic event.

“And I think that’s who Governor Pence’s running mate is,” Kaine said.

Pence shot back: “Senator, senator, that was even beneath you and Hillary Clinton and that’s pretty low.”

Kaine repeatedly sought to persuade Pence to defend Trump’s positions, but Pence steadfastly refused to take the bait.

One of Kaine’s most aggressive lines of attack was over Trump’s refusal to release his tax records, a decision that breaks with the practice of all other presidential nominees in modern history.

The New York Times reported last weekend that Trump had taken a $916 million tax loss in 1995 and may have avoided paying federal taxes for 18 years because of it.

“Governor Pence had to give Donald Trump his tax returns to show he is qualified to be vice president. Donald Trump has to give his tax returns to show he is qualified to be president,” Kaine said.

Pence defended Trump, saying the New York real estate developer had created thousands of jobs and had used U.S. tax laws as they were designed to be used.

“Why won’t he release his taxes?” Kaine fired back.

(Writing by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington and Emily Stephenson in Colorado and Chris Kahn in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)