WASHINGTON — A smooth-talking Mike Pence calmly swatted back or ignored the hits against Donald Trump that an overeager Tim Kaine threw at him at the one and only vice presidential debate Tuesday night.
Pence and Kaine battled at Longwood University in Farmwood, Virginia, waging a proxy war on behalf of Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Pence walked onto the stage with the harder job because Trump was coming off of his worst campaign week ever.
Compared to the outsized personas of Trump and Hillary Clinton, the men they picked to be their running mates cut more conventional figures and are little known to the public.
Pence did better than well for Trump. If you didn’t know how off the wall Trump was — well, you might have thought, listening to Pence, a former talk radio host, that Trump was rational.
On the Trump/Pence ticket, it’s Pence who looked presidential.
Kaine took a surprising tack — interrupting Pence and using obviously canned lines about being “stronger together” and how Clinton would be a “you’re hired” president in contrast to Trump, who would be a “you’re fired” president.
It’s hard, it turns out, to debate Trump when he’s not on the stage.
A one point when Kaine and Pence were going at it, the frustrated moderator, Elaine Quijano of CBS News implored them to stop because “people at home” cannot understand you “when you speak over each other.”
Quijano is from Chicago and went to school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, according to CBS.
Where Pence failed to dominate — or even come close — was over Trump’s taxes. How he won’t disclose his returns and the recent New York Times story about how Trump used an almost billion dollar loss in the mid-1990s to potentially wipe out personally paying federal taxes for 18 years.
“He used the tax code just the way it was supposed to be used. And he did it brilliantly,” Pence said.
Replied Kaine, “How do you know that?” since one would have to see Trump’s federal returns to say he used the system “brilliantly.”
Pence also earns demerits for obfuscating. He tried to deflect attention away from payment of federal taxes by noting that Trump pays payroll and property taxes. That’s an apple and oranges argument.
Pence and Kaine haven’t gotten all that much attention.
Maybe they should.
No matter whether Trump or Clinton is elected, either of them will be the oldest president to assume office. Trump is 70 and Clinton turns 69 on Oct. 26. The current record holder is President Ronald Reagan, who was a few weeks shy of 70 in 1981 when he was sworn in.
Pence, 57, is governor of Indiana; Kaine, 58, was governor of Virginia. Both men know their way around the Capitol. Pence was a six-term House member and Kaine is a first-term senator. Both are Catholics. Both have sons in the Marines.
And both prepared for this debate.
Trump, who brushed off any arduous prep, was bested by Hillary Clinton in their first debate at Hofstra University in New York.
In contrast to Trump, Pence threw himself into prep for the debate.
Pence started prep soon after Trump tapped him to be his running mate this summer. Pence used Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as a stand-in for Kaine.
Pence’s vice presidential team is led by Nick Ayers, who ran Gov. Bruce Rauner’s 2014 Illinois gubernatorial campaign.
Kaine tapped into Clinton’s seasoned team of debate operatives to help him prep, holed up for the past few days in Raleigh, North Carolina.
With early voting starting in a number of states, new battleground state polls show Clinton is in better shape to win 270 electoral votes — and the White House — than Trump.
According to poll-watching Real Clear Politics, Clinton is up by 2.8 in Florida; up 5 in Wisconsin; plus 4.4 in Pennsylvania; up 1.2 in North Carolina; up 3.3 in Colorado; up 6 in New Hampshire; and in Virginia, where Kaine gives Clinton an edge, she is up by 7.
Trump is ahead of Clinton by 5 in Iowa and by 3.8 in Ohio.
Hovering over the only vice presidential faceoff was Trump, watching from a Las Vegas hotel — and tweeting like mad. It’s not clear this has sunk in yet: Pence showed his boss how a debate is done.
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