A cool and smooth Gov. Mike Pence won the one and only vice-presidential debate on style points, but he did more to help himself than running mate Donald Trump.
A shrill and red-faced Sen. Tim Kaine played loyal soldier, aggressively defending Hillary Clinton and repeatedly interrupting Pence to attack Trump, but hurt his own image.
Bottom line, the face-off Tuesday night wasn’t a game changer in the 2016 presidential election. The choice for voters still comes down to Clinton and Trump, and there’s no contest: Clinton is more qualified and ready to lead. They have their next face-off – a town hall in St. Louis – Sunday night and the third and final debate Oct. 19 in Las Vegas. And while they weren’t physically on stage Tuesday night, the debate was far more about them than their running mates.
At first, Pence fended off Kaine’s critiques and hit Clinton on the email scandal and foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation, which Trump largely failed to do during his debate last week.
But as Kaine kept pressing, Pence either tried to ignore the criticisms of Trump, sidestep what Trump has advocated or flat-out deny Trump has said what he actually has said, as fact-checkers pointed out. Though he’s on the ticket, Pence did on national TV what other craven Republican leaders are doing daily – accepting Trump as the nominee but also distancing himself for the future.
Kaine did his duty for Clinton, persistently hammering Trump on failing to release his tax returns and apparently avoiding federal income taxes – legal, but morally bankrupt and politically damaging. Kaine also repeatedly brought up Trump’s disparaging remarks about immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims and women.
But it was obvious being the attack dog doesn’t come naturally, and the snapshot post-debate polls show his favorability rating dropped.
While the election is properly focused on the top of the ticket, voters can’t forget that Trump, 70, would be the oldest president ever elected and that Clinton, who turns 69 on Oct. 26, would be second oldest to take office, behind only Ronald Reagan.
Pence and Kaine pass the basic test of being qualified to be president, and didn’t undermine that in the debate. Whoever is elected will also have the ear of the president on policy. On that score, Kaine is a moderate Democrat whose positions are held by many Americans.
The same can’t be said for Pence. Though he tried to downplay his very socially conservative record in Indiana, he opposes gay marriage and supports making abortion illegal again.
It seemed clear that Pence was as intent on advancing his own political prospects as boosting Trump. The way the race is trending, Trump needed more.
Pence didn’t throw Trump under the proverbial bus, but he sure didn’t do a whole lot to put Trump in the driver’s seat, either.