Pence upstages rival Kaine in debate - but makes his boss look bad too
Published 06/10/2016 | 02:30
Mike Pence came across as the most presidential candidate on the Trump ticket during his debate debut, demonstrating skills that were glaringly absent from his boss's performance against Hillary Clinton.
Where Trump was bloviating and incoherent, Pence, his vice presidential candidate, was eloquent and concise. And whilst the Republican mogul was repeatedly caught off guard in his first presidential debate last month, his running mate showed himself a master of the art of the pivot.
Asked a series of difficult questions about his boss's most controversial statements Pence swiftly turned them into positive descriptions of the billionaire's plans, and attacks on his opponents. When faced with the thorny subject of Trump's taxes, Pence seamlessly transitioned into talking about bringing back a 1980s style economic boom with 4pc growth and bringing down the national debt.
When asked about race relations he managed to steer the discussion on to how much America owes to its police. When he was accused of planning to eviscerate social security, Pence stole a line from Ronald Reagan and delivered it well.
"There they go again," he said.
The Republican Party must be hoping Trump is taking notes.
The debate could hardly have come at a worse time for the Trump campaign. Pence took the stage knowing the presidential ticket he is riding was facing its biggest crises of the election cycle, with the revelations about Trump's tax affairs and his "Miss Piggy" comments about a model starting to atrophy their support base.
But the Indiana governor's experience as a radio show host served him well. He was engaged but calm throughout. In these debates, where tone matters as much as substance, that gave him a significant advantage.
Kaine, by contrast, kept interrupting with prepared lines that were less effective for the fact that they sounded so canned.
A mild-mannered Midwesterner with a compunction for positivity, Kaine looked uncomfortable in the role of attack dog, which the Hillary campaign had clearly set for him. His timing was bad, and Pence often talked through Kaine's attempts to interrupt him. When he did succeed, the lines were cheesy and obviously contrived.
"Do you want a 'you're hired' president in Hillary Clinton, or a 'you're fired' president in Donald Trump?" Mr Kaine asked Americans at one point.
Nonetheless, Clinton's allies scored points with his approach of quoting the most extreme of Trump's comments ranging on everything from immigration to women, and repeatedly asking his rival how he could defend the Republican nominee in the face of these.
Pence didn't want to risk getting caught out or bogged down in these arguments.
But his refusal to rise to the challenge gave the impression that Trump's comments were too egregious to defend.
Overall, the evening was probably more useful to voters in terms of helping them understand the candidate's policies than the presidential debate, which had quickly descended into an evening of trading personal insults.
Pence and Trump's policies did not match up - especially on Syria.
There were detailed discussions on race, national security, religion, and guns.
The vice presidential candidates were loyally sticking to their bosses' positions.
That is until the moderator asked about approaches to the war in Syria, and Pence went off script, apparently ad-libbing on the policy live on air.
Pence attacked Russia, which has become a major ally of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president that the United States has long denounced as a war criminal. All of these things are remarkable for seeming at odds with Trump's position on Syria.
The Republican mogul has promised to "bomb the sh*t" out of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. But he has not talked about standing up to Assad, or, notably, to his key ally, Russia.
In fact, earlier this month, Trump openly praised Vladimir Putin, the Russian president's policy on Syria, calling it a "wonderful thing".
"Putin is now taking over what we started, and he's going into Syria, and he frankly wants to fight Isis, and I think that's a wonderful thing," he said on Fox news.
"In terms of leadership, he's getting an A, and our president is not doing so well."
Trump even suggested that he agreed with Putin's alliance with President Assad: "I'm looking at Assad and saying, 'Maybe he's better than the kind of people that we're supposed to be backing'."
Whilst Trump last year briefly mentioned creating a "tremendous safe zone" for refugees he then seemed to pull back from the idea saying he would prefer to sit back and "see what happens".
Creating this area would require a no-fly zone to prevent Russian and Syrian planes from bombarding the area and would, military experts explain, require a major military commitment. (© Daily Telegraph London)