Last night Tim Kaine and Mike Pence disagreed on whether Donald Trump exists. (More)

“My party’s presidential candidate is [inaudible]”

Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine repeatedly pressed his GOP counterpart to defend the statements of Donald Trump:

KAINE: Your candidate said Mexicans are rapists.

PENCE: No he didn’t. Benghazi–

KAINE: –He also called a former Miss Universe “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.” He’s running a campaign of insults.

TRUMP [tweets]: Kaine looks like an evil villain out of the Batman movies!

PENCE: No he isn’t. Basket of deplorables–

KAINE: –And Secretary Clinton apologized for wording that poorly. Your candidate called women “pigs” and never apologizes.

PENCE: No he didn’t. Clinton Foundation pay-for-play–

KAINE: –Okay, let’s talk about foundations. The Clinton Foundation is one of the most highly-rated charities in the world. They feed kids and provide AIDS drugs across Africa. The Trump Foundation is under investigation for funneling money to politicians and buying baubles for Trump’s golf courses, without even meeting the basic filing and audit requirements to be a charity.

PENCE: No it isn’t. Hillary Clinton founded ISIS. We’ll push back Russia in Syria–

KAINE: –What? Have you even listened to your candidate? He praised Vladimir Putin as a “strong leader.”

PENCE: No he didn’t. He never–

KAINE: –It’s all on the record! There’s video of Donald Trump saying those things!

PENCE: Donald Trump? Yet another lie. My party’s candidate is [inaudible].

And that was the debate in a nutshell. If you want to read the whole thing, the Washington Post has an annotated transcript and Mother JonesPamela Levy has an issue-by-issue summary.

But my nutshell wasn’t a complete invention. Trump really did tweet insults of Kaine while Pence was denying Kaine’s charge that Trump is running an insult-driven campaign, and Pence repeatedly denied that Trump ever said what Trump said.

The GOP posted analyses of why Pence won the debate, and why Clinton lost … two hours before the debate started. And conservatives wish Pence was at the top of the ticket, because “ideas.”

CNN’s pundit review shows conservatives think Pence won and liberals think Kaine won. Shocking, I know. And a CNN/Orc snap poll found 48% of debate watchers thought Pence won, vs. 41% for Kaine. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza parroted the Beltway Consensus that it’s “irritating” and “annoying” when Democrats interrupt Republicans.

Meanwhile, the New York TimesNicholas Confessore and Matt Flegenheimer offered a more substantive assessment:

Mr. Kaine challenged Mr. Pence repeatedly to defend statements or proposals made by Donald J. Trump during his chaotic and improvisational presidential campaign, forcing Mr. Pence to filibuster and dodge for minutes on end.

It was not quite a defensive crouch: Mr. Pence’s tone and his calm delivery never wavered, and he continued to deflect and deny questions about Mr. Trump’s ideas while turning back to the Obama administration’s foreign policy record.

Yet it opened the door for Mr. Kaine – who often interrupted Mr. Pence – to hammer away at Mr. Trump’s business ties to Russian banks, his campaign team’s lobbying work for a Ukrainian strongman and Mr. Trump’s eyebrow-raising praise for Vladimir Putin. When Mr. Pence broached the idea that the Obama administration had let Russia dominate the response to Syrian policy, Mr. Kaine wore an expression that looked vaguely sad, as though he couldn’t believe Mr. Pence had gone there.

What followed was a thumping: Mr. Kaine reeled off chapter and verse on Mr. Trump’s musings on the Russian autocrat and Mr. Putin’s own record as president, from Russia’s struggling economy to his persecution of gay people and journalists. Mr. Pence tried repeatedly to argue that Mr. Trump hadn’t said the things Mr. Kaine had claimed. When that failed, he tried to suggest that merely quoting Mr. Trump was to engage in insults.

That set Mr. Kaine up for a revealing summation. “Six times tonight I have said to Governor Pence I can’t imagine how you can defend your running mate’s position,” Mr. Kaine said. “He is asking everybody to vote for somebody that he cannot defend.”

FiveThirtyEight’s Seth Masket pegged the two post-debate narratives:

There are two main takeaways. One is that Kaine came off overly aggressive and seemed too eager to get in his memorized talking points. The other is that Pence happily and calmly defended a version of his running mate that doesn’t exist. In Pence’s telling, Trump would be tough on Putin, would never support prosecuting women for having abortions, uses his family charity solely for charitable purposes, etc. And when called on these discrepancies, Pence simply said that Trump isn’t a polished candidate so sometimes says things he doesn’t mean.

And his colleague Harry Enten put the whole night in context:

There’s no evidence that vice presidential debates have a meaningful effect on the horse race. (As I mentioned on the podcast, I wrote about this in a college term paper.) [Enten offers a chart showing no absolutely correlation between VP debate winners and election outcomes.]

Case in point: Remember when Democrat Lloyd Bentsen unleashed his famous “you’re no Jack Kennedy” line on Republican Dan Quayle? Voters said Bentsen won that debate by a record 26-percentage-point margin. But it was Quayle’s running mate, George H.W. Bush, who gained in the polls after the debate, continuing a longer-term trend of his picking up support after the Republican convention.

So if you decided to watch the American League playoff game – or file and catalogue your toenail clippings by date, in case your grandkids donate them to a museum – well, that’s what you missed. Or didn’t.


Photo Credit: Fox News


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