Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence narrowly beat Senator Tim Kaine as they sparred on US policies, the abortion law, the war in Syria and “safe zones” for refugees in the US in a 90-minute TV debate, a CNN poll showed.
Debating Kaine on Tuesday night, Indiana Governor Pence taught a master class on how it’s done. Every time Kaine attacked, Pence parried and deftly shifted the conversation to entirely something else.
When Kaine demanded that Pence defend Donald Trump’s secrecy on his taxes, the Republican ducked and talked about how low taxes are good for economic growth.
Pence, in the debate, aimed to stabilise Trump’s bid after a turbulent week in which the billionaire admitted that he greatly benefited from “unfair” US taxes laws.
Whenever Kaine offered an extended list of Trump insults that he believed Pence would defend, the billionaire’s running mate did not defend. Instead, he pivoted to complaining about Clinton and the “basket of deplorables”.
Pence was tight, disciplined, and focused on his talking points. He never took the bait, never let himself get dragged into unfavourable terrain, and simply ignored subjects he did not wish to discuss. He stuck to the script in toto.
It was a genuinely bravura performance, one that a passel of GOP senators and Congress members running in tough races ought to study.
The high point of the debate came when Kaine launched into a devastating attack on Trump’s foreign policy.
Clinton’s running mate raised Trump’s Twitter war with Miss Universe. He ridiculed the billionaire for having no plan — and yet harping on “I have a secret plan.”
Kaine kept shooting with Trump liners like — “I know more than all the generals about ISIL” ; “I am going to fire all the general”; “John McCain is no hero”; “the generals need to be fired”; and “NATO is obsolete”.
Pence simply did not defend instead deflected, saying, “that had a lot of creative lines in it”.
On taxes and Trump, Pence declared that “he used the tax code just the way it’s supposed to be used, and he did it brilliantly”.
Pence’s tone and his calm delivery never wavered, and he continued to deflect and deny questions about Trump’s ideas while turning back to the Obama administration’s foreign policy record, The New York Times reported.
Kaine often interrupted Pence to hammer away at Trump’s business ties to Russian banks, his campaign team’s lobbying work for a Ukrainian strongman and the billionaire’s eyebrow-raising praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When Pence broached the idea that the Obama administration had let Russia dominate the response to Syrian policy, Kaine wore an expression that looked vaguely sad, as though he could not believe Pence had gone there.
On the abortion policy, Pence said it was a crucial issue to him and he could never support a party that would support the legalisation of later-term abortions, while Kaine was personally opposed to abortion, but said it was not his right to impose that view on the public.
The Democrat paraphrased former US President Ronald Reagan with regard to nuclear weapons, saying Trump was the “fool” or “maniac”, who could start a nuclear war.
To this Pence responded with “Senator that was even beneath you and Clinton and that’s pretty low.”
According to the BBC, Pence’s goal was to reassure Republicans panicked by Trump’s debate performance last week and his bungling in the days that followed that cooler heads will prevail. And he did exactly that.
His calm, steady stood in marked contrast to Kaine’s over-caffeinated demeanour and rapid-fire attacks.