On Tuesday vice presidential nominees, Governor Mike Pence and Senator Tim Kaine will take the debate stage. Those who tune in are likely to see a more traditional debate: one that is heavy on policy prescriptions, and light on biting quips and interruptions. Perhaps more boring than the top-of-the-ticket debate, it’s still worth watching. While Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton are preparing for the second debate on Sunday, the vice presidential debate should fill in some of the holes left over from the first presidential debate.
While the first debate was close to a draw, Trump did miss some wide openings to slam Clinton on matters related to her record. At this stage in the election, it is not enough to say “she has experience and it’s bad.” To convincingly get this point across, the Trump-Pence ticket needs to remind everyone watching exactly what that bad experience entails.
Here are just a few examples where Trump missed wide open opportunities, where Pence should be sure to flesh out, and where Trump should be ready to nail next time.
When moderator Lester Holt inquired, “Our institutions are under cyber-attack, and our secrets are being stolen. So my question is, who’s behind it? And how do we fight it?”
Secretary Clinton responded:
Well, I think cyber security, cyber warfare will be one of the biggest challenges facing the next president, because clearly we’re facing at this point two different kinds of adversaries. There are the independent hacking groups that do it mostly for commercial reasons to try to steal information that they can use to make money.
She prattled on about how Donald Trump has praised Vladimir Putin and encouraged the Russian authoritarian to hack Americans.
Mr. Trump responded, in part:
As far as the cyber, I agree to parts of what Secretary Clinton said. We should be better than anybody else, and perhaps we’re not. I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people…
Inexplicably, Mr. Trump’s full response included not a single mention that Secretary Clinton, as Secretary of State, traveled to countries hostile to the United States (Russia, maybe?) with devices that were easily hacked. His response included no mention of the flippant, careless, negligent manner in which she handled highly classified intelligence. All Trump has to do is point to Obama’s own Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, who stated:
With respect to potential computer intrusion by hostile actors, we did not find direct evidence that Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail domain, in its various configurations since 2009, was successfully hacked. But, given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence. We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal e-mail extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account.
Whatever she might say on cyber-security, the Trump-Pence ticket has the high ground. She has no credibility on cyber-security. She either knows nothing about the cyber-war in which the United States is currently engaged, or she does know, which makes her negligence treasonous. Which is it? Either way, Secretary Clinton should not be permitted to lecture anyone on what must be done to protect against cyber-attacks (or on the importance of lawfulness, for that matter).
Second, any time Secretary Clinton or Senator Kaine even mentions nuclear war or nuclear weapons, Mr. Trump or Governor Pence should easily turn the tables.
During the presidential debate Secretary Clinton said, “And, in fact, his cavalier attitude about nuclear weapons is so deeply troubling. That is the number-one threat we face in the world. And it becomes particularly threatening if terrorists ever get their hands on any nuclear material. So a man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes, as far as I think anyone with any sense about this should be concerned.”
After admonishing her for the tired talking point, Mr. Trump said, “It's not an accurate one at all. It's not an accurate one. So I just want to give a lot of things -- and just to respond. I agree with her on one thing. The single greatest problem the world has is nuclear armament, nuclear weapons, not global warming, like you think and your -- your president thinks.”
It was a decent beginning. He shouldn’t be defensive about the absurd and hyperbolic accusation that as President he would be itching for nuclear war. And, to his credit, he rightly said of the Iran deal, “So you say to yourself, why didn't they make the right deal? This is one of the worst deals ever made by any country in history. The deal with Iran will lead to nuclear problems. All they have to do is sit back 10 years, and they don't have to do much.”
It’s a fine start, but he has got to explain why it is a terrible deal in a way every American can understand. Mr. Trump is claiming to be a much better negotiator than the current President and Secretary Clinton who has supported the President’s disastrous arms control agreements. He could have mentioned even two or three of the following facts about the deal: Those negotiating the Iran deal did not require Iran to abandon its missile program, which it continues to expand. The deal did not require the Iranians to stop supporting terrorism. It did not require Iran to come clean on its past weaponization activities in order to establish a baseline on which to determine if weaponization activities continue. The verification system is weak and allows Iran plenty of wiggle room to evade the U.N. watchdog, the IAEA. Iran is supporting Syria’s brutal Assad government at the same time the U.S. government is doing all it can to support the Iranian economy, because it desperately wants Iran to abide by the Iran deal.
Plain and simple, the Iran deal is a perfect example of how weak policies motivated by ideology rather than a firm commitment to protect Americans and our closest allies, result in deals that only help the enemy and rip off the American people.
Governor Pence and Mr. Trump should make it crystal clear that it is her polices that are weak and provocative. The Obama-Clinton policies have led to instability, chaos, the flow of migrants, and the civil wars that have allowed Islamist groups like ISIS to fester.
Last, Secretary Clinton boasted about the number of countries she has travelled to, the cease-fires she negotiated, or, audaciously—the “11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee.” Governor Pence and Mr. Trump should suggest that she reimburse the Americna people for her wasted travel expenses. It’s clear that her travel did nothing to dissuade Russia from heavily investing in its nuclear arsenal and directly and implicitly threatening to employ nuclear weapons against the United States and our allies, despite her much vaunted New START Treaty. (This would have the added benefit of alleviating concerns that Trump is indifferent to a revanchist Russia.) Her travel did nothing to assist what can barely be called the “nation” of Syria, a war-torn and humanitarian catastrophe. Her travel did nothing to protect Americans from North Korea’s nuclear missile program. And her travel certainly didn’t contribute to the stabilization of Libya. Speaking of Libya, if she hadn’t lied about Libya, she never would have had to testify for all those hours in front of a Congressional Committee.
From Russia, to China, to North Korea, to Iran, to Syria and Libya: the threats to American security are worse now than when Secretary Clinton was leading the State Department, and she has yet to point out where President Obama has gone wrong. Governor Pence has the opportunity to truly remind America that it is her pitiful record and the policies she supports that has left the United States weaker, more vulnerable, and our enemies emboldened. Then Mr. Trump should build on it, and hammer away, for the second presidential debate on Sunday.
Rebeccah Heinrichs is a fellow at the Hudson Institute where she provides research and commentary on a range of security issues and specializes in missile defense and nuclear deterrence. She is also contributing editor at Providence Magazine. Follow her on Twitter, @RLHeinrichs.