On Tuesday night, millions of American will watch as a plucky, middle-aged, midwestern Catholic white dude squares off against another plucky, middle-aged, midwestern Catholic white dude in a proxy battle for the fate of our democracy. And while there are substantial personal and policy differences between them, vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, in their similar soft-spoken style and earnest demeanor, have the potential to make your forget all those important policy differences as you slowly drift into fevered-haze of close-cropped white hair and dropped “g” sounds.
That’s why we put together this handy list of possible scenarios to help you navigate those treacherous debate moments where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s running mates start to seem like the same person.
When a candidate says “I’m personally against abortion.”
Picture this: You’re watching the vice presidential debate and you think you’ve got a pretty good handle on which candidate is which when all of the sudden the guy you thought was Hillary Clinton’s running mate just said that he was “personally” opposed to abortion. That can’t be right! Now you don’t know what to think or who to trust.
So how do you tell the difference? Well, it depends what they say next. If the vice presidential candidate says that he wants to personally judge a woman’s choice about what she does with her body, but doesn’t want to restrict access to abortion, that person is Tim Kaine.
If the candidate says that they want to judge a woman’s choice and wants to restrict access to abortion that person is Mike Pence.
If the candidate says that he opposes Hillary Clinton’s position on repealing the Hyde Amendment and increasing access to abortion for low-income women, that could be either candidate, since both Mike Pence and Tim Kaine hold that position.
When a candidate tries to explain why he once supported the TPP even though his running mate opposes it.
Alright, you know from watching that first presidential debate that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump say that they oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. But you could have sworn you just heard both men on stage say vague things in support of the trade agreement, and the more they say the same thing, the harder it is to tell them apart.
It’s true that, much to the chagrin of organized labor, both Pence and Kaine advocated or helped advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership before joining their respective presidential tickets. They also both have a history of supporting anti-union “right-to-work” laws in their home states of Indiana and Virginia. The best way to tell them apart on issues of trade and labor is to listen closely to what they say about President Barack Obama.
How do you tell them apart?
If a candidate says, paradoxically, that he trusts Obama’s judgment when negotiating trade deals but also opposes his decision on TPP, that candidate is most likely Tim Kaine.
If a candidate lambasts Obama’s reputation on trade despite having repeatedly made on the record statements supporting the president’s trade position, that person is probably Mike Pence.
When a candidate tries to explain why he had a different position on the Iraq war than his running mate.
Just as you think you’ve nailed down who is who, the moderator asks about the wars in Iraq and Syria—and everything gets confusing quickly. Both candidates are, once again, trying to explain why their position is different from their running mates, and now you’ve forgotten who supported the war, who’s against the war, and who wants to start another war.
Here is an easy way to keep track of everything:
If the VP candidate tries to brag about how their running mate was opposed to the Iraq war back when he, himself, was for it, that candidate is Mike Pence.
If the VP candidate touts his own early criticism of the war in Iraq while excusing his running mate’s early support, that candidate is Tim Kaine.
Pence, who voted for the initial invasion of Iraq, will likely try and talk about the fact that Trump was an early critic of the Iraq War but also opposed early withdrawal (side note: neither of those things are true).
Kaine, on the other hand, will probably talk about his longstanding effort to force Congress to vote on authorizing the current military campaigns in Iraq and Syria, while also defending his running mate’s plan to carry on those campaigns without military authorization.
When a candidate starts to remind you of someone who once drove you to soccer practice.
You’re doing your best to pay attention to the conversation about cybersecurity playing out on your TV screen when suddenly you find yourself distracted by how much both of these candidates remind you of the men who used to schlep you and a minivan full of your peers out to McKinney field and—damn it! Now you’ve lost track of who is who again.
Here’s a quick way to sort everything back out.
If the candidate reminds you of a friend’s dad who once offered you a stern and unsolicited lecture on the values of hard work and practice without ever taking his eyes off the road to see if you were listening, that candidate is probably Mike Pence.
If the candidate reminds you of the dad who tried to spark up an enthusiastic yet under-informed conversation with you about the latest pop culture figure, forcing your friend Becky to bury her face in her hands out of embarrassment, that candidate is probably Tim Kaine.
If that dichotomy doesn’t work for you, try thinking about the radio station that each of the two hypothetical soccer dads would be listening to. Christian rock and talk radio? That’s Mike Pence. Hard rock and top 40? You’re looking at Tim Kaine.