Yes, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was cool and collected in his debate with the feisty Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine when they squared off Tuesday night in Farmville, Va. Pence played to the most conservative wing of the Republican Party on issues such as abortion rights and chided Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her characterization of some Trump supporters as “deplorables.”
Kaine blasted away at Trump, particularly on his refusal to release his tax returns, which has raised speculation that he didn’t pay any taxes, something that might hurt him even with his ultraconservative supporters. Pence defended Trump as a businessman who went through “a very difficult time but he used the tax code just the way it was supposed to be used and he did that brilliantly.”
That’s of course a preposterous statement, that a billionaire who avoided all taxes is somehow brilliant for doing so.
But Pence still got rave reviews from his side, and even some pundits inclined to dislike the Republican ticket acknowledged that Pence in some ways won the debate. But that assessment was based on Pence’s style, his ability to keep his cool, and to refrain from giving Kaine an equal measure of aggressiveness in response to the senator’s repeated interruptions.
Unfortunately for Pence and Trump, a goodly number of Americans understand that the presidency is more than style, that it is a serious job for a person with a grasp of national and international issues. So far, Trump hasn’t offered specifics on how he’d ensure health care, protect Americans’ financial security, preserve Medicare and Social Security (Pence favored privatization of Social Security under George W. Bush) and calm the racial tensions that have divided the country in the wake of police shootings of African Americans.
Pence’s calm style didn’t erase the outrageous statements of his running mate. Pence brushed over all that.
The Indiana governor, formerly a congressman from that state, won Trump’s nod as his running mate because of his calm demeanor, and he made good on that choice Tuesday. Vice presidential debates have become customary, but they don’t seem to make much difference in the long run of a campaign, and in this case the upcoming presidential debate will eclipse what happened in Farmville. And if Trump continues his combative, bombastic style — which didn’t work in his last debate — he is not likely to benefit much from Pence’s good performance.