Mike Pence Emerges Strong After Vice Presidential Debate -- But What Did Trump Think of His Upstaging Performance?
A former Republican National Committee official tells PEOPLE post-debate, "Looks like Pence should have been the nominee"
Donald Trump stunned many in the political world when he emerged as the Republican presidential nominee through a never-before-seen mix of bravado and bluster. His running mate, however, chose a very different approach during Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate — and impressed many with his more understated, poised demeanor.
Mike Pence remained mostly levelheaded throughout the 90-minute debate at Longwood University in Virginia, refusing to partake in opponent Tim Kaine’s charged prodding over everything from Trump’s tax returns to foreign diplomacy.
“From the very beginning, Pence was the more comfortable of the two men on the debate stage,” wrote Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post. “Pence repeatedly turned to the camera when he answered questions, making clear he understood that the real audience wasn’t in the room but watching on TV. The Indiana governor was calm, cool and collected throughout — a stark contrast to the fast-talking (and seemingly nervous) Kaine.”
Some analysts noted that the strength of Pence’s performance was mostly in deftly sidestepping an outright defense of Trump, his temperament and his most outrageous statements.
One former Republican National Committee official ruefully tells PEOPLE post-debate: “Looks like Pence should have been the nominee.”
Noted Ezra Klein of Vox, “I understand why this debate would make Republicans wish they had nominated Pence. I don’t understand why it would make anyone vote Trump.”
While Pence’s performance sparked discussion of putting Pence at the top of the ticket in 2020, the success didn’t necessarily earn him a gold star from Trump himself, said Politico.
Wrote Erick Erikson, “Trump won’t be happy that his No. 2 was far better than he was. And while this debate won’t impact the race overall, there will be a lasting effect and well of support for Pence, particularly among the often fickle donor class that has been extremely frustrated by Trump. ”
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Pence did bristle under Kaine’s so-called “avalanche of insults,” though — some of which were merely the Democratic VP nominee reciting several now-infamous Trump lines (like his dig at Mexicans early in the election).
“I mean, to be honest with you, if Donald Trump had said all of the things that you’ve said he said in the way you said he said them,” Pence charged Kaine, “he still wouldn’t have a fraction of the insults that Hillary Clinton leveled when she said that half of our supporters were a ‘basket of deplorables.’ It’s — she said they were irredeemable, they were not American.”
The night was not all straight-shooting — many moments drew humorous commentary on social media, and even former Vice President Selina Meyer (aka Julia Louis Dreyfus in character as the Veep President) got into the debate action.
In a Snapchat video introducing the debate, Meyer asked, annoyed, “How long is thing gonna take?”