Davidson, North Carolina— Aside from his debate last week against Mike Pence, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine hasn’t made many big national headlines recently. On Wednesday, at a campaign stop in North Carolina, the Virginia senator made his role in the campaign clear: to act as a bulwark against the tsunami of misogyny unleashed by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and showing voters what it looks like when a man truly supports and promotes a woman.
Kaine is working hard to model a style of male leadership that is not merely comfortable working on behalf of a female candidate, but is confident and joyful while doing so. During a week in which Trump’s recorded boasts about sexual assault, the allegations of sexual abuse emerging against him, and the unending sexist comments made by the candidate and his minions have made many of us feel we’ve endured low-level toxic poisoning, watching Kaine on the stump was reassuring—soothing, even.
He began and ended his remarks as he often does: by pointing to the sexism his running mate has faced throughout her career, and how men can play a crucial role in promoting her now. “Anybody ready to make history in about three and a half weeks? Because that’s what we’re doing. We are battling hard and we’re going to make history by electing a super-qualified Hillary Clinton to be president, and elect the first woman president of the United States. I have always, always been able to have a strong career in politics because of the support of so many strong women…. I am so proud to be a strong man supporting a strong woman who’s going to be our first president and make history!”
Kaine observed that the United States “has made it uniquely difficult for women to be elected to higher office.” Then he made it personal: “Can I just tell you one of the things that I’ve gotten to know very well about my running mate, Hillary Clinton? She has heard that her entire life: ‘This is not your time, maybe you can’t do it, somebody else is there ahead of you, why don’t you smile more?’ Or ‘Oh, this is just locker-room talk that you don’t understand,’ as Donald Trump said a couple weeks ago. Or ‘She doesn’t look very presidential, does she, fellas?’” He made the crowd think about the historic nature of this presidential race in a way polls tell us many millennials have not. And he did it in a way Clinton herself usually can’t.
He sat down for a half-hour interview afterwards, for a wide-ranging discussion about his turnaround on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his deference to Clinton on repealing the Hyde Amendment, and several other topics. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Why do you think the Democrats struggle so much with white, non-college-educated voters every four years? People act like it’s a new thing, with Trump, but in fact, Democrats have never actually won them at the presidential level since Lyndon Johnson in 1964…