“If he had just waited his turn,” MSNBC host Chris Matthews lamented after last night’s vice-presidential debate, Tim Kaine “would have had his opportunity” to make his points. “I don’t know why he kept interrupting,” Matthews continued. “With two people debating, the other guy gets the chance to speak.”
As for Mike Pence, Matthews told his audience that the Republican VP nominee “came across like a grown-up — strong,” and not just personally. Matthews said that Pence made himself the 2020 GOP frontrunner with “eloquent” positions for pro-life and immigration enforcement, as well as bolstering Donald Trump’s “right-wing flank”:
Democrats have tried to spin Kaine’s performance since the debate as exactly what they wanted. Team Hillary put out the spin almost immediately that they wanted to make Trump the issue in the debate, and the repetitive zingers found their mark. Unfortunately, they seem to be the only people buying that argument. Nearly everyone else had the same impression as Matthews, which was that the constant interruptions in a two-person debate looked a little desperate, especially for the purpose of reading from a scripted set of soundbites while Pence calmly discussed policy.
The other spin is that Pence somehow angered his running mate by outperforming him. Team Trump responded to a CNN report that hinted at Trump’s unhappiness with a win:
The Indiana governor was calm and collected Wednesday night, refusing to be baited by Sen. Tim Kaine’s repeated attempts to force Pence to defend some of Trump’s most outrageous remarks. Stylistically, Pence appeared to emerge from the debate victorious, but at least two reporters had sources in the Trump campaign tell them that the GOP nominee was unhappy that his running mate didn’t offer a more full-throated defense.
“CNN’s John King, reporting from a source close to Trump, that the reviews that Pence did better [than] he did won’t go over well with Trump,” the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein wrote on Twitter Tuesday night. That post was followed shortly by one from CNBC’s John Harwood, who wrote, “Trump adviser on debate after Pence passed up opportunities to defend him: ‘Pence won overall, but lost with Trump.’”
Conway said Wednesday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that such reports were “just not true.”
“His last tweet last night was how excited he was, how proud of him he was. They talked last night. I talked to Mr. Trump during the debate several times,” Conway said of Trump’s response to Pence’s debate performance. “I think the one thing to remember is that, as Ronald Reagan always said, personnel is policy. And Donald Trump has promised as president to surround himself with the best people. You saw last night who the best people are. The first exercise in judgment in leadership by Donald J. Trump after he became the Republican nominee was his selection of his vice presidential running mate, and you see it was just a fantastic pick.”
That spin seems rather weak. Trump may have a huge ego, but he’s not that insecure. He needed a good performance from Pence, and perhaps a bad performance from Kaine even more. The failure of those zingers to land, and the fact that Kaine exhausted them in mindless repetition, make them much less effective post-debate, and that only helps Trump.
If this was the final debate, it might matter more. However, Trump has two more debates to go, the first coming on Sunday night in a town-hall format. Trump had better take a few lessons from his running mate and prepare to look and sound more presidential the next time out if he wants to get any advantage from Pence’s performance last night.