Pence finally had heard enough. “The small and bullying leader of Russia has been stronger on the world stage than this Administration, that’s stating painful facts,” Pence said. “That’s not an endorsement of Vladimir Putin. That’s an indictment of the weak and feckless leadership of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.”
It was telling that Pence’s most forceful response came when Kaine finally pinned the Putin line on him. To some observers, it was a sign that the Indiana Governor’s debate strategy was also designed to protect his own political future in the event of a Trump loss.
“There was a striking difference between the two all night. Kaine gamely recited talking points from the Clinton playbook, while Pence seemed intent on laying out the case for a Presidential candidacy—his own,” Republican strategist Joe Brettell said.
Focus groups indicated Pence had delivered the better night, but no one could argue that he enjoyed the grilling. Kaine, a former Virginia Governor who now represents the state in the Senate, was clearly ready to pounce. It took him just 45 words into the debate to turn to Trump, who was live-tweeting the VP debate from his resort on the Las Vegas Strip. “The thought of Donald Trump as Commander in Chief scares us to death,” Kaine said. Minutes later, he continued the pile-on: “Donald Trump always puts himself first.”