A fine answer — until the end, when he resists applying “deplorable” to Duke despite having just said that he and Trump don’t want any votes from him or his sympathizers. “No name-calling” is a weird line to draw under those circumstances. (And a weird line for Donald Trump’s running mate to draw under any circumstances.) “Deplorable” isn’t even name-calling. It’s criticism. Either the criticism is apt or it isn’t. Pence all but admits that it is, yet resists the label.
If there’s strategy at work here and not just an unfortunate reflex by Pence not to be “mean,” even to a former Klansman, it could be that he wants to preserve “deplorable” as a sort of badge of honor for mainstream Trump fans. I noticed over the weekend that a lot of Trumpers changed their Twitter account names to include “deplorable” in order to spite Hillary. I.e. someone who tweets as “John Smith” is now “The Deplorable John Smith.” A reporter tweeted a photo a few hours ago of a guy in the audience today at Trump’s rally wearing an “I’m Deplorable” t-shirt. Team Trump wants voters to rally around that label as a middle finger to Clinton and elitist liberals; their machine runs on grievance towards the “politically correct” and that’s rocket fuel. If Pence then turns around and says, “Oh yeah, Duke is legitimately deplorable,” then the message the campaign is pushing about the label gets a little muddy. Who’s really deplorable and who’s “deplorable” in the “hard-working people whom Hillary Clinton doesn’t like” way?
Even worse, if Pence plays Blitzer’s game here, then the obvious follow-up question is “Who else among your supporters is legitimately deplorable? The alt-right? Birthers?” As the circle gets bigger, the politics get dicier for Trump and Pence. Which was exactly Clinton’s plan in floating the “deplorable” line in the first place — get the media talking about Trump’s base and get them pressing Trump and Pence about it. If the candidates validate her criticism by conceding it applies to some of their own fans, that’s a point in her favor. If they squirm and refuse to concede it applies to anyone, including David Duke, then mischief can be made of that too. Even though Pence is perfectly clear in his denunciation.