FARMVILLE, Va. — Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence delivered the sort of debate performance last night that the Trump campaign desperately needed after a tough week.
The Indiana Governor was cool and calm Tuesday at Longwood University as Democratic rival Tim Kaine hurled the kitchen sink at him, relying on the instincts honed from years in talk radio.
Pence certainly wasn’t able to escape all of Kaine’s traps — he could only dodge so many questions about Trump’s past headline-grabbing remarks — but his steady performance in the face of Kaine’s seemingly overcaffeinated one offers a blueprint for Donald Trump for his next head-to-head battle against Hillary Clinton, which comes Sunday in St. Louis.
He let Kaine over-extend himself and interrupt the moderator. He allowed Kaine’s canned quips speak for themselves. And he appeared to speak sincerely about his childhood and his faith, adding a dose of relatability to a campaign in desperate need of it.
Trump campaign surrogates glowed in the media spin room following the debate.
“The first decision Donald Trump made after becoming the Republican nominee was to pick his running mate. And he picked someone who everyone saw tonight understands D.C., understands government and clearly has a command of the conservative issues that our party deeply cares about,” said Republican National Committee staffer Ashley Bell, who previously served as Hall County Commissioner.
“The humility, wisdom, depth of knowledge and just his class, I think it all showed through tonight on a really big stage,” said Nick Ayers, a top Pence adviser and Cobb County native with deep roots in Georgia politics. “I don’t think there could have been an any brighter contrast with the performance that Tim Kaine turned in, or lack thereof.”
Speaking of Kaine and his performance, top Democratic surrogates sought to deflect the discussion away from the Virginia senator in the hours after the debate.
“I wonder if Pence was more interested in his own political future because of how he refused to go out on a limb for Donald Trump, refused repeatedly to defend him and in some cases decided to take entirely new policy positions,” said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook.
Kaine’s Virginia U.S. Senate colleague Mark Warner dodged questions about Kaine’s performance, instead focusing on what Pence’s responses mean about his support of Trump. But when pressed, Warner said:
“Listen, this is Tim Kaine’s best vice presidential debate and I think he won the debate and I think that will play out as we move forward because I think the momentum that’s been with the Clinton-Kaine ticket will continue.”