Mike Pence had a strong debate performance against Tim Kaine Tuesday night. Pence clearly won the debate on style, answering questions in a calm and deliberate manner that sounded less rehearsed than Kaine’s rat-tat-tat delivery.
It was clear almost from the outset what Kaine’s game plan was. He spent the entire debate demanding Mike Pence defend Donald Trump’s comments on topics including statements about women, immigrants, Vladmir Putin, nuclear weapons and abortion. Pence seemed to sidestep those challenges for most of the debate, choosing to stick to his own debate strategy rather than get roped in to playing defense.
Near the end of the debate, Kaine counted that he had challenged Pence to defend Trump six times. Pence said many of Kaine’s claims were not true but did allow that Trump was not always a polished, professional politician.
But whatever points Kaine scored by relentlessly attacking Trump he seemed to give away by constantly interrupting Pence. Kaine was asked to stop talking by the moderator numerous times as the debate wore on. Even some on the left found Kaine’s constant interruptions were hurting him:
Man, if Kaine wasn't being such an asshole interrupting, he'd be winning on substance. Pence literally hasn't defended Trump once.
— Markos Moulitsas (@markos) October 5, 2016
Here’s what the constant crosstalk sounded like, courtesy of the CNN. Notice that it’s usually Kaine interrupting Pence:
The exchange over foreign policy was emblematic of the entire debate. Kaine attacks Trump on his ties to Russia and statements about Vladmir Putin. Pence offers an answer criticizing Hillary’s Russian reset, faulting her for the invasion of Ukraine and for the Iran deal. Kaine says twice, rather implausibly, that the Iran deal stopped the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Both candidates are taking shots at the opposing candidate but Kaine seems to be playing gotcha with a handful of specific statements while Pence is making a broader argument.
One of Pence’s best moments came when he turned the tables on Kaine during the discussion of immigration policy. Kaine once again interrupted and once again was asked to stop by the moderator. Pence then argued that whatever Trump had said is not as bad as Hillary Clinton placing half of Trump’s supporters in the “basket of deplorables” and saying they were irredeemable. Kaine looked somewhat uncomfortable as Pence spelled it out.
When it was his turn to talk, Kaine once again ran through his list of objectionable statements before turning to the topic of immigration and again relying on a single line from Trump and challenging Pence to defend it. “I can not believe that Gov. Pence would sit here and defend his running mate’s claim that we should create a deportation force…so that they’ll all be gone,” Kaine concluded. Pence replied, “Senator, we have a deportation force. It’s called Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the union for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for the first time in their history, endorsed Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States.” It was one of Pence’s best lines.
Pence clearly won the debate on style and held his own on substance. There was no knock-out punch from either candidate and there were enough digs at both Trump and Clinton by the opposing side to keep partisans on both sides buzzing and to keep the fact-checkers busy for a few days.