Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, wasted little time Wednesday night going after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on one of the billionaire’s more vulnerable stands: His refusal to release his tax returns before the November election.
“By the way, does anybody in this massive auditorium believe that Donald Trump has been paying his fair share of taxes?” Kaine said midway through his half hour acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. “Does anybody here believe that Trump ought to release his tax returns just like every other presidential candidate in modern history?” he added.
Trump has repeatedly refused to release his tax returns, insisting that it would be imprudent to do so during an IRS audit. But Democrats and even some tax experts say that Trump’s argument is specious at best. And without those tax documents, it’s impossible to gauge more precisely the net worth of the New York mogul or whether he has been as generous as he claims in making charitable contributions.
“Hey, Donald, what are you hiding?” Kaine said. “And yet, Donald still says, ‘Believe me. Believe me.”
In his first major speech since Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton tapped Kaine last Friday to be her running mate, the affable centrist Democrat and former Virginia governor seemingly passed his first big test of the campaign with few stumbles.
Clinton said she chose him because of the breadth of his government experience, their shared political views and principles, his unquestioned loyalty and his reputation for bipartisanship that may help the ticket reach out to more independents in key battleground states, including Virginia.
Kaine, 58, is knowledgeable on national security and defense issues by his service on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committee. He has pressed Congress to vote on new war powers for the president in the battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. As Clinton has noted, Kaine would be ready to step in and replace her as commander in chief in the event she was incapacitated.
However, his more moderate views on international trade, banking and other issues have alienated many of the liberal delegates attending the convention. And Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Clinton from the far left, said that he would have preferred someone else as the vice presidential nominee, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Despite his decades of government service in Virginia and the U.S. Senate, Kaine is little-known outside of Washington, and he has his work cut out for him in doing battle with the formidable and unpredictable Trump and his vice presidential running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
It was unfortunate that Kaine had to follow Vice President Joe Biden last night to accept his party’s nomination. The veteran, savvy Biden has evolved over the years as an unparalleled wing man for President Obama, using at turns a folksy, down-home charm, a liberal’s passion and the voice of moral authority in promoting and defending Obama’s policies.
Biden’s popularity among rank and file Democrats has only grown since the death of his son, Beau, from brain cancer last year – a family tragedy that dissuaded Biden from entering the 2016 president campaign and challenging Clinton.
Kaine did a workmanlike job of making his case to the convention in a speech that was peppered with Spanish phrases, but he lacked the gravitas and rhetorical dexterity of Biden or President Obama, who provided a stirring closing address to last night’s session. Kaine’s attempts at being folksy and informal sometimes fell flat.
“He was up against a tough lineup,” said University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato, an admirer of the Virginia senator. “Nobody can compete with Obama, and Biden had a powerful farewell address.”
“Kaine is a terrific extemporaneous speaker, but is less effective with a prepared address,” Sabato said. “Plus the pressure must have been terrible. Add to that the widespread rumors that Sanders delegates were going to boo or turn their backs. Anyway, Kaine can go toe to toe with Trump, but he will achieve a better result in the back and forth of the trail.”
In his speech, Kaine first stressed his stressed his Irish Catholic roots, the Jesuit missionary work he did in Honduras after taking a year off from law school, and his strong stands on human rights and gun control during his years as a Richmond city council member and mayor. He also discussed his wrenching efforts as governor to guide his state through tough economic times and the tragedy of the Virginia Tech mass shootings in April 2007.
“We shed tears along the way,” he said. “But afterward we rolled up our sleeves and we fixed the loophole in the background record check system so that we could make our commonwealth safer. And we have to do that in the nation.”
His defense of Clinton was forceful, although he focused less on her years as President Obama’s secretary of state and Middle East policymaker than on her efforts as a New York senator to win federal assistance and compensation for New York City policemen and first responders and their families after the 9/11 attacks.
Like other speakers, he also praised Clinton for her years of advocacy for children and health care reform.
“She has battled to put kids and families first since she was a teenager,” he said. “Through hell or high water, fighting for underprivileged kids working at the Children’s Defense Fund. Fighting to get health insurance for eight million low-income children when she was the first lady. Fighting for the well-being of women and children around the world.”
As for Trump, Kaine followed the Democrats’ attack plan and portrayed him as a charlatan in business who frequently “stiffed” contractors and workers on his building projects or cheated people out of their savings by persuading them to enroll in business courses at the now defunct Trump University.
He joined in what emerged as the theme of the night: that Trump is a dangerous and incompetent leader who would threaten the future of the country if he somehow wins the election in November.
“And I will tell you, and I will tell you, to me, it just seems like our nation, it is just too great to put in the hands of a slick-talking, empty-promising, self-promoting one-man wrecking crew,” Kaine said.
There’s little doubt Kaine will be an effective advocate for Clinton on the campaign trail. But whether he can stand up to the salvos that will soon be coming his way from Trump and Pence remains to be seen. Trump has already begun to label him as “corrupt Kaine” because of his ethical lapses in accepting $160,000 in gifts and trips from special interest groups during his tenure as lieutenant governor and governor, even though accepting the gifts was not a violation of Virginia law.