Indiana Governor Mike Pence wiped the floor with Virginia Senator Tim Kaine at the vice presidential debate Tuesday night. Pence presented his arguments with logic, plain language, and class. Indeed at times he proved too much of a gentleman. Kaine interrupted him time and time again, and smugly dismissed the Indiana governor and his running mate.
Nevertheless, Kaine delivered the strongest lines of the debate, with cutting precision. Pence cunningly attacked this scripted performance, landing a killing blow.
The two candidates entered the ring with vastly different objectives. Pence insisted that 2016 is a change election, and blasted Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on her record time and again. Kaine aimed his fire at Donald Trump’s off-the-cuff comments and insults, goading Pence to spend valuable time explaining the Republican nominee to the voters who are already dead-set against him.
Many pundits will say that Kaine won the debate in his own way, by making it seem like Pence could not defend Donald Trump. In fact, Pence did defend Trump (and himself) in brief side comments, but he remained focused on substantive issues rather than personal asides. The Indiana governor deftly turned the issue on its head — accusing Kaine and Clinton of being scripted, and ironically Kaine himself walked right into the trap.
This is why it didn’t matter that Kaine had the best lines of the night. With every well-crafted sound bite he was proving Pence’s point — he and Mrs. Clinton are consummate Washington politicians who know how to wrap their language in a bow. Trump and Pence say it how it is. That message came across loud and clear, and it was Tim Kaine who delivered it.
Here is the litany of perfect sound bites which, word by word, hoisted the Virginia senator on his own petard:
Do you want a “you’re hired” president in Hillary Clinton or a “you’re fired” president in Donald Trump?
One of those killed at Virginia Tech was a 70-plus–year-old Romanian Holocaust survivor. He’d survived the Holocaust and survived the Soviet Union takeover of his country. But then he was a visiting professor at Virginia Tech, and he couldn’t survive the scourge of gun violence.
Donald Trump believes in deportation nation.
If you don’t know the difference between dictatorship and leadership, then you’ve got to go back to a fifth grade civics class.
The gospel of Matthew says, “From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” So Trump meant it. And he called Mexicans rapists.
Kaine even had his Reagan quote ready.
But Pence took all his hard work and used it against him.
Next Page: How Mike Pence turned Tim Kaine’s word-smithing on its head.
The Indiana governor was very subtle — a few words there, a quick jab there. On immigration, he noted, “We’ve been talking it to death for 20 years.” When Kaine listed four of Trump’s dangerous ideas, Pence shot back, “Did you work on that one a long time? Because that had a lot of creative lines in it.”
When Kaine hit Trump for his comments about punishing women who have abortions, Pence responded, “He’s not a polished politician like you and Hillary Clinton.”
Kaine also played into Pence’s narrative by carrying a smug demeanor. When Pence promised to work with Kaine in the Senate, the Democrat shot back with a devious grin, “We will work together in whatever roles we have.” In one horrid moment, the senator did a jig similar to Hillary Clinton’s infamous shoulder roll from the first debate, declaring, “You are Donald Trump’s apprentice.”
While Pence spoke, Kaine fidgeted. His face would transition from a sheepish smile to a disgusted grimace, and his very body language spoke superiority.
Pence, by contrast, had a strong, firm, confident demeanor. He seemed almost mellow by comparison. He laid out his arguments in plain language, and allowed Kaine to make a fool of himself by interrupting him.
The Indiana governor did occasionally interject — as at the “fifth-grade civics class” line, when he said “I’m offended” — and he definitely spoke for too long on more than one occasion. Nevertheless, he never evinced anything but respect for his opponent, even while attacking the Clinton-Kaine team as an “insult-driven campaign.”
When the issue of abortion came up, Pence’s deference to Kaine seemed overboard. He likely lost that exchange by being too much of a gentleman. The question actually involved applying religious faith to public policy, and Kaine ignored the hot-button social issues of life and marriage in order to dwell on … the death penalty. Pence, meanwhile, spoke with conviction about the value of human life, declaring that “a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable.”
The Republican interspersed his comments on abortion with declarations like this: “I have a great deal of respect for Senator Kaine’s sincere faith.” Even while addressing issues like partial-birth abortion and the Hyde Amendment (legislation preventing federal tax dollars from supporting abortions), Pence emphasized that his disagreement was not with Kaine but with Clinton.
This allowed Kaine to deliver the killer line on abortion and social conscience: “The very last thing that the government can do is to punish women who make reproductive choices. … Why doesn’t Donald Trump trust women to make that choice for themselves?”
Nevertheless, compared to Pence’s calm, reasonable, and respectful demeanor, Kaine’s interruptions, insults, and slights seemed most unbecoming. The Indiana governor may not have won the abortion segment, but he won the overall debate by taking the high road.
Next Page: How Pence bested Kaine in foreign policy.
Pence also had the substance going for him. Kaine made some very crucial mistakes, on foreign policy especially. The Virginia senator had the gall to say Hillary Clinton had worked with other nations “to eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program without firing a shot.” Pence challenged him on this, asking, “Eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program?” Kaine merely declared “absolutely.”
ABC News’ fact-checker wasted no time in ranking this claim “False.” Even the Obama administration does not claim that much. Instead, they argue that the Iran deal succeeded in convincing Iran to reduce its stockpile of nuclear material and to cease further enrichment, thereby extending the time it would take them to build a bomb. Furthermore, some have argued that by lifting sanctions on Iran, the deal actually made it much easier for Iran to develop nuclear weapons in the future.
Kaine kept repeating this “accomplishment” of Hillary’s, as though it demonstrated her diplomatic prowess. He also argued that Clinton would do better in checking the excesses of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. When asked what went wrong with the Russian reset, Kaine responded, “Vladimir Putin. He’s a dictator.”
He then went on to say that “Hillary Clinton knows exactly who he is. She looked in his eyes and saw the KGB.” Kaine seemed not to grasp the irony that if Clinton knew who Putin was she would not have been so easily manipulated by him.
Pence tore into her on the issue. “Hillary Clinton’s top priority was the Russian reset, but after the Russian reset, Russia invaded Ukraine,” he declared. He then added the Russia and China have been building their militaries, while the United States has the smallest navy it’s had since 1916. In a powerful display of strategic knowledge, he added, “We ought to deploy a missile defense shield to the Czech Republic and Poland,” the very policy Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama rejected, in order to appease Putin.
Make no mistake, Mike Pence won this debate, hands down. Many media outlets may try to spin the story and argue that Kaine proved Pence was unwilling to defend Trump, but that overlooks the style, the demeanor, and the substance of the vast majority of what happened in Virginia this evening.
After tonight’s debate, Republicans and conservatives could be forgiven many times over if they wished that Pence, rather than Donald Trump, were the GOP nominee. If only he could do to Hillary Clinton what he did to Tim Kaine this evening.