Pence praised, but Kaine lands jabs on Trump
Republican Mike Pence won bipartisan plaudits for a calm and collected performance in the vice presidential debate. But Democrat Tim Kaine was claiming mission accomplished for forcing his opponent to confront —or not — Donald Trump’s long list of provocative remarks.
Pressed by Kaine to defend his running mate throughout the 90-minute debate Tuesday, Pence mostly dodged, sidestepped or let the moment pass by. He vouched for the billionaire’s tax history, but was less vocal when challenged about Trump’s temperament or his inflammatory words about women and President Barack Obama.
“I can’t imagine how Gov. Pence can defend the insult-driven, me-first style of Donald Trump,” said Kaine, the Virginia senator and Hillary Clinton’s No. 2.
Still, even Clinton’s team wasn’t claiming that Kaine had come out on top, despite the chest-puffing that usually follows a political debate. Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said only that Kaine had succeeded in his “strategic mission” to challenge Pence to defend his controversial running mate.
“Gov, Pence was smooth, he seemed sort of likable, but he didn’t get the job done,” Podesta said Wednesday on MSNBC.
Pence, campaigning in Virginia, said Trump had called him late at night to congratulate him. He said “some people” thought he had won but that “from where I sat, Donald Trump won the debate.”
Both sides appeared willing to concede that the only debate between the vice presidential candidates was unlikely to alter the trajectory of the race. After all, this year’s rollicking presidential campaign has been all about the passionate emotions — positive and negative — that both candidates of the top of the ticket stir up for many American voters.
Yet for Republicans worried their voters won’t show up at the polls, Pence’s steady performance could help assuage concerns that this year’s Republican ticket has veered away from the party’s core beliefs. Pence, a former congressman and Indiana’s governor, is widely trusted by the Republican establishment and the party’s socially conservative base.
Like Pence, Kaine also found himself in the role of defender. He rebutted Pence’s attacks on Clinton’s family foundation, her emails and her struggles persuading voters that she’s trustworthy. Kaine said he and his wife trust Clinton “with the most important thing in our life” — their son, a Marine who would serve under Clinton if she wins.
Yet for the most part, Kaine was determined to make the showdown a referendum on Trump’s character. Typically relaxed and easygoing, Kaine adopted a pugilistic approach as he slammed Trump for having called women pigs and slobs, and condemned his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pence frequently avoided taking the bait — a shrewd move for a conservative darling who could have eyes on the Oval Office himself if Trump loses in November. Instead, he sought to defuse the line of attack by arguing preemptively that it was the Democrats — not Trump — waging an insult-filled campaign.
He didn’t dispute reports that the businessman might not have paid any federal taxes for years as a result of suffering more than $900 million in losses in 1995. But he likened Trump’s situation to those of other Americans who have gone “through a very difficult time.”
Vice presidential nominees Tim Kaine, left, and Mike Pence shake hands on the debate stage.