Sometime during the post-debate torrent of words gushing from the array of motor mouths on CNN, Fox and MSNBC, someone described vice presidential candidates Tim Kaine and Mike Pence as "able dodgers." That phrase summed up the face-off between the running mates as well as anything.
Both men gave only passing notice to the questions posed by the moderator, CBS newswoman Elaine Quijano, as they dodged bullets and fired back like a pair of seasoned gunslingers. When it was all over, pundits faulted Kaine for his many interruptions and his rush to deliver as many memorized attack lines as he could in the first 15 minutes. Pence won praise for his calmer style and his ability to pivot from an uncomfortable question to a sharp assault on Clinton — for putting in a performance, in other words, that was far more disciplined than any Donald Trump has ever pulled off.
It did not go unnoticed, however, that Pence just plain ducked several times when confronted with the challenge of defending the man at the top of the Republican ticket. Unlike the odd squad of Trump surrogates, such as ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Pence was not willing to spout a bizarre justification for Trump's every unhinged misstep.
Perhaps, Pence avoided looking like a total shill for the outlandish GOP standard bearer because has his own ambitions to protect. Before being picked as Trump's running mate, the Indiana governor was nearing a political dead end, but with this solid showing on the debate stage, his prospects are revived. Conservatives — especially those of the church-going variety — had to like what they saw: an articulate, antiabortion, washed-in-the-blood Christian man with a hard line on defense, terrorism and taxes. If anyone was the loser in this debate, it was Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who may have been eclipsed by Pence as the Republican Party's next great white hope.
And the winner? Pence did well for himself, but his easily disprovable assertions that Trump has not said all the crazy things that he has actually, verifiably said just gave the Clinton campaign a batch of talking points for the next several days. Kaine may have been more feisty than he needed to be, but he did pepper the exchange with reminders of Trump's vulnerabilities, in particular all the income taxes the billionaire hasn't paid.
Meanwhile, tracking the comments Trump was posting on his Twitter account during the debate seemed as important as following the action on the debate stage. Would the Donald send out a shrill tweet that would make everyone forget what either Pence or Kaine had to say? Would he self-sabotage again?
As it turned out, the tweet-addicted Trump was relatively restrained. "Wow, Kaine couldn't go 12 seconds without a lie," he wrote. "Kaine looks like an evil crook out of the Batman movies," he retweeted. But that was about as lively as it got.
Too bad it wasn't 3 A.M. and he wasn't alone. As we have come to learn, that is when he really lets his flying monkeys take to the sky.
Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter
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