Mike Pence claims win in US vice-presidential debate

Affable Tim Kaine took one for Team Clinton by serving as her attack dog

Donald Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, may have come out ahead in Tuesday night's vice-presidential debate, but the victory may have been a personal win for him rather than for the Republican presidential nominee.

The Indiana governor undoubtedly won on style over senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton's running mate, in their only televised head-to-head. But the Democratic camp capitalised anyway, using Pence's statements denying or deflecting Trump's most inflammatory remarks against the billionaire.

The normally affable Kaine took one for Team Clinton by serving as her attack dog. He was condescending and hectoring at times, interrupting his rival some 70 times during the 90-minute debate.

Trump's supporter hit back at the Clinton camp over his performance. New York Republican congressman Chris Collins, called Kaine "unhinged", "rude" and "insulting".


“I thought Hillary was the most unlikable politician until I saw Tim Kaine last night,” Collins said.

However, Kaine did enough to expose Pence on Trump’s lies and rhetoric. He drew out enough contradictory and off-message remarks from the polished Pence, a former conservative talk radio host, that will allow Clinton to continue prosecuting the case that Trump is unfit to be president.

Video evidence

The Democrats’ campaign produced a morning-after attack ad contrasting Pence’s denials that Trump had promised to deport all illegal immigrants, punish women who had abortions and work with Russian leader

Vladimir Putin

with past videos showing that the nominee had in fact said each of those things.

"From where I sat, Donald Trump won the debate," Pence told supporters yesterday at a rally in Harrisonburg, Virginia in his first public campaign event after the debate.

The Republican pointedly focused his postmortem on the candidate at the top of the presidential ticket a day after commentators suggested, citing Trump aides, that the billionaire may not be happy that his running mate performed far better in his debate than Trump did in his encounter with Clinton.

The Republican vice-presidential nominee, for the most part, side-stepped Kaine's attacks on his running mate. Still, the lasting impression will be that Pence could not only not defend Trump, but even strayed from his positions on immigration, the conflict in Syria and attitude towards Russia.

Kaine’s best line against Pence – “he is asking everyone to vote for someone he will not defend” – was left largely unanswered. This provides Clinton with ammo for her second debate with Trump on Sunday.

She took the day off the campaign trail yesterday to prepare for that event.

Republican principles

Pence’s defence of the Republican principles of low taxes, less regulation, small government and conservative social values will excite part of the party’s core, but this was more Pence than Trump.

The debate is unlikely to push significant numbers of on-the-fence voters towards one nominee or the other. A snap CNN/ORC poll of debate watchers declared Pence the winner by a margin of six points but found that most (53 per cent) were not swayed by the testy exchange.

To that extent, this was a typical vice-presidential debate: largely inconsequential in itself, but it may help Clinton continue to make this election a referendum on Donald Trump.