A Clinton-Kaine fan’s confession about Pence and the VP debate

As an emphatic Clinton supporter, I’m glad the V.P. debate has historically made little difference.

If anyone was still in doubt as to whether Trump made the right choice in selecting Mike Pence over Chris Christie as his running mate, tonight’s performance should put that to rest.

Mike Pence rocked it.

Pence was everything that Donald Trump should have been at last week’s debate.

First and foremost, he was actually a conservative, which is bound to matter to conservative voters – if even just for an evening.

He stayed on message throughout, emphasizing the cornerstone issues of Trump’s campaign: change, law and order, economic growth and putting America first.

Pence stayed on message throughout the debate, emphasizing the cornerstone issues of Trump’s campaign: change, law and order, economic growth and putting America first.

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Pence hammered Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine for representing the status quo — a critical point when 65 percent of Americans want the country to go in a different direction.

He argued that America is less safe today than when Barack Obama took office and used Hillary Clinton’s record as secretary of state to support it.

He talked about cutting regulations and taxes, making government smaller and unleashing the power of the free market. And he made clear that Trump’s policies are driven by one goal: keeping Americans safe, even if the methods to achieve this may have been criticized.

Most of all, though, Pence didn’t take the bait and Kaine dished out plenty of bait.

He successfully – more or less – steered away from engaging on various absurd statements Trump has made.

He was able to turn the discussion to attacking Clinton more than defending Trump, which served him well.

There was never any visible signs of stress or agitation and he allowed Kaine to get flustered as he rushed through many of his attacks.

Indeed, Kaine was unable to make Pence squirm on the issues Pence disagrees with Trump about – Muslim ban, free trade, his comments about Mexican-American Judge Curiel – and that surely represents a botched opportunity.

But let me be clear, Kaine did well for himself, too. He highlighted a litany of things that Trump has said or done. And, despite Pence denying that Trump said or did them or simply pivoting away from them, the Democratic base — and those independents Clinton so badly needs — will have heard him.

Kaine offered a spirited defense of Clinton and her record – points that rated well with focus groups throughout the debate.

Pence had no answer to a question about Trump’s slanderous comments about Mexicans, Senator John McCain, former Miss Universe Alicia Muchado or Judge Curiel  – all serious issues to American voters, many have now decided that Trump doesn’t have the temperament or qualifications to be president according to polls.

Kaine was extremely thoughtful in his discussion of race, policing in America and abortion rights in particular. Indeed, that conversation was perhaps the most thoughtful of the evening (for both men).

I wish that Kaine has grilled Pence more on his own record. Pence came off as relatively moderate, which he is not. Pence passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans. He holds some frightening positions that Americans need to be made aware of and hopefully they will be discussed more in the coming days.  

In sum, the fact checkers definitely had a busy night.

In large measure, Pence invented his running mate on Tuesday night, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do a bang up job in this debate.

I’ll end as I began, I’m glad the vice presidential debate has historically made little difference.

Jessica Tarlov, Ph.D., is a political strategist at Douglas E. Schoen, LLC. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.

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