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US vice-presidential debate: In clash with Kaine, did Pence let down Trump?

The vice presidential debate ended up being more about the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump than about anybody, and his running mate Mike Pence was left largely defending Trump and his controversies.

us presidential election Updated: Oct 05, 2016 17:15 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Mike Pence,Tim Kaine,Republican
Vice presidential candidates Democrat Tim Kaine (left) and Republican Mike Pence (right) arrive on stage for the US vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia on October 4, 2016.(AFP Photo)

The vice-presidential debate was never going to be about them, both Tim Kaine, the Democratic nominee, and Mike Pence, the Republican, must have known. It was to be about their respective running mates. And so it was.

And mostly about Donald Trump, who Pence was pushed to defend by a combative Kaine again, and on an entire range of issues — from his refusal to release his tax returns to not paying taxes at all to remarks about women, Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, nuclear bombs, and Vladimir Putin.

Silver-haired Pence, who was such a contrast to Trump in style, manners and demeanour, gave back as well, bringing up Clinton's use of email server, the Clinton Foundation and her record as secretary of state. That was expected.

While the outcome of Tuesday will be debated for days to come, based on polls, a narrative had begun to take shape clearly with a few minutes of the candidates leaving the stage — Pence, who had clearly impressed everyone, had not been an effective defender of his running mate.

Read | US vice presidential contenders Kaine, Pence debate candidates instead policy

"Pence: Effective in prosecuting a case against HRC (short for Hillary Rodham Clinton) . Less effective defending Trump," wrote Stephen Hayes of the right-leaning Weekly Standard in a tweet.

"Mike Pence won. Donald Trump lost," wrote The Vox's Ezra Klein in a tweet linking to a story that expanded that theme broadly to argue that the VP candidate made a great case for himself by throwing Trump under the bus.

Here is how exchange played out. "Donald Trump cannot start a Twitter war with Miss Universe without shooting himself in the foot," Kaine said in a broadside on Trump'a foreign policy.

"He does not have a plan. He said, 'I have a secret plan', and then he said, 'I know more than all the generals about ISIL (another name for Islamic State)', and finally he said, 'I am going to fire all the generals'. He does not have a plan. He trash talks the military, John McCain is no hero, the generals need to be fired, I know more than them. NATO is obsolete."

Kaine continued, seemingly reading from a well rehearsed script scrolling down the back of his head, reprising known campaign attack lines, and adding few — "He has a personal Mount Rushmore of Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, and Saddam Hussein".

After a few more of those, Kaine stopped, and invited Pence to respond, who, shot back, brightly, "that had a lot of creative lines in it", and proceeded to offer a response that was a standard Republican critique of President Barack Obama's foreign policy — and by extension of Clinton, his one-time secretary of state.

But he did not defend Trump, not adequately enough.

Pence did try valiantly to push back on occasions — on taxes and abortion, in one instance saying Trump was not a politician, but was mostly just shaking his head as if that would be enough. It wasn't.

Kaine, on the other hand, was the quintessential running mate. He defended Clinton vigorously on her private email server, Clinton Foundation, untrustworthiness and turned each attack into an opportunity to hand Pence something else to defend.

Both camps claimed victory at the end — Trump tweeted out his verdict within seconds of the debate — "Mike Pence won big. We should all be proud of Mike!" — but will have to wait for polls, and not online snap polls, for a clearer picture.

Read | Who will win the US presidential election?

And, Trump himself may change his mind once he sees the reporting.

First Published: Oct 05, 2016 11:37 IST