Mike Pence Struggles to Defend Donald Trump’s Record

Without the toxic personality of his running mate by his side, Pence seemed naked.

Theo Anderson

Tim Kaine and Mike Pence faced off in the only vice-presidential debate of the season. (Win McNamee/ Getty Images)

We’re having fun up here,” Tim Kaine said during Tuesday night’s debate with Mike Pence. And the thing is, sometimes, that actually seemed to be true for one of them — Kaine.

"What the debate revealed most clearly, maybe, was how crucial Trump’s perverse personal charisma is to the success that Trump has had."

At one point, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate went off on a long riff about Hillary Clinton’s competence in foreign policy, contrasting it with Donald Trump who, Kaine said, can’t start a Twitter war with Miss Universe without shooting himself in the foot.”

Pence was reduced to shaking his head and asking in exasperation: Did you work on that a long time? Because that had a lot of really creative lines in it.”

Indeed, Kaine had the clever lines. Later in the debate, talking about Trump’s fondness for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kaine said that if you don’t know the difference between dictatorship and leadership, then you got to go back to a 5th-grade civics class.”

Kaine rattled off a list of the people and groups that Trump had offended over the course of his campaign. Pence’s response? The time-tested 5th-grade defense of, I know you are, but what am I?”

If Donald Trump had said all the things that you’ve said he said, in the way you said he said them, 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,” said Pence, in one of the more convoluted arguments you will ever hear in a vice-presidential debate.

It’s not that Kaine was so stellar. He was more aggressive than Pence, that’s true. But what the debate revealed most clearly, maybe, was how crucial Trump’s perverse personal charisma is to the success that Trump has had. He’s rarely been held accountable for his lack of knowledge, his racism, his lies, because — well, that’s just Trump being Trump. It’s baked in.

Without Trump by his side, Pence seemed naked on stage — not unprepared, just unable to defend the indefensible. Several times, Kaine said he challenged Pence to defend Trump’s record and Pence didn’t do it.

And Kaine was right. Probably no one could defend the record with much success, except — bizarrely — Trump himself.

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Theo Anderson is an In These Times contributing writer. He has a Ph.D. in modern U.S. history from Yale and writes on the intellectual and religious history of conservatism and progressivism in the United States. Follow him on Twitter @Theoanderson7.
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