Running mates matter
It's become a commonplace to observe that a Presidential candidate's VP choice doesn't matter and can safely be disregarded -- many said, for example, that yesterday's VP debate would have no effect on the election outcome and thus it hardly mattered who won. This is unfortunate. The VP choice is of some importance, and should be acknowledged as such.
A sitting VP is first in line to succeed the President. Everybody knows this, but not many seem to realize how important it is. During a President's term there is always a nontrivial possibility that the VP -- a person who did not actually win election to the Presidency and in many cases could not have -- might step into that office which wields more power than any other on the globe. It matters who that person is.
The last running mate who drew the full interest and scrutiny the position deserves was Sarah Palin. She was a colorful, attention-getting figure (a big part of why McCain, lagging in the polls and seeking a game-changing move, chose her) and, as rapidly became apparent, was seriously unqualified for the job. The concern was all the greater because McCain was 72 -- the older the President, the greater the risk that he or she will die in office or resign due to health issues. I don't believe Palin cost McCain the election, because 2008 was an election no Republican could have won, following the grossly unpopular Bush and his economic crash and running against the charismatic Obama. But she probably cost him a nontrivial number of votes. I personally knew of people who had intended to vote for McCain but did not do so because they didn't want to see Palin a heartbeat away from supreme power.
Hillary Clinton is 68. Donald Trump is 70. Neither needed an exciting, attention-getting running mate because both bring those qualities to their tickets themselves (Hillary would be the first woman President, and Trump is Trump). So Kaine and Pence haven't gotten a lot of scrutiny. They should. Whichever one's ticket wins has a small but nontrivial chance of becoming President some time in the next four years.
Pence personifies what has worried me the most about the Republican party for many years. He's an unabashed theocrat who believes that American civil law should enforce the taboos of his own religion upon the entire populace. As Governor of Indiana he acted on this conviction, most famously signing the so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" allowing businesses to discriminate against gays on grounds of religious prejudice, but also signing laws designed to harass and humiliate women seeking abortions, and working to defund Planned Parenthood. The anti-gay law was eventually watered down after economic sanctions were imposed on Indiana because of it, and Pence was not able to go so far as actually banning abortion due to Roe v. Wade, but those setbacks reflect the fact that a state Governor has far less power than a President.
If Trump were elected and then died in office or resigned (or was impeached) for whatever reason, Pence would become President. Imagine this man with full power to issue executive orders, set policy on discrimination throughout the executive branch, and appoint the Supreme Court judges who would hear future challenges to Roe v. Wade, Obergefell v. Hodges, separation of church and state, and the Devil knows what else. He could disastrously redirect the whole course of the country. It's very unlikely that a man like Pence could actually win election to the Presidency in his own right. Yet in this scenario, there he would be.
And Kaine? Frankly I know little about him, but I trust Hillary's judgment. He self-identifies as Catholic, but is outspokenly pro-choice on abortion and accepts gay marriage. The enemy recognizes him and Pence as polar opposites. So should we.
Trump himself offers an abundance of reasons to vote against him. But Pence represents almost as great a potential disaster. It's worth keeping that in mind.
[Image at top: Governor Pence signing the anti-gay RFRA, surrounded by religious clerics; found via Mock Paper Scissors]