Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence made the Republican nominee “proud” during the vice presidential debate, the campaign insisted Wednesday, as Trump and rival Hillary Clinton claimed victory on the morning after the showdown.
Pence and Clinton’s number two Tim Kaine launched bitter attacks on the opposing camps during their fiery debate, essentially fighting a proxy war for their nominees, scrapping for every vote ahead of Election Day November 8.
Several pundits, experts and other observers agree that Pence, the governor of Indiana, outshone his vice presidential rival Kaine by presenting a methodical and level-headed case for a Republican administration, and reassuring core conservatives who have grown nervous about how Trump would govern in the White House.
It proved a sharp contrast with the normally genial Kaine. The 58-year-old US senator from Virginia repeatedly reminded viewers of Trump’s year-long stream of insults about Mexican immigrants, women and Muslim refugees, his position on nuclear weapons and his fondness for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In doing so he interrupted Pence dozens of times, earning rebukes from the moderator and assessments from observers that he came off as overly aggressive.
Pence, 57, repeatedly deflected Kaine’s demand that he defend Trump, instead redirecting the attacks into critiques of President Barack Obama’s administration and Clinton’s record as secretary of state.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway was quick to knock down reports that Trump, widely seen as losing the first presidential debate to Clinton, was irritated at being upstaged by his running mate.
“Absolutely not,” Conway insisted on MSNBC Wednesday, adding that she spoke with Trump after the debate and that he expressed “how excited he was, how proud of him he was.”
Pence ‘won big’
Trump, who attends two rallies Wednesday in the battleground state of Nevada, himself tweeted after the debate that Americans “should all be proud of Mike.”
On Wednesday the brash billionaire added, “The constant interruptions last night by Tim Kaine should not have been allowed. Mike Pence won big!”
Clinton seized on Pence’s apparent refusal to defend Trump’s various comments, tweeting that she was “Lucky to have a partner like @timkaine who stood up for our shared vision tonight — instead of trying to deny it.”
Her supporters released an online video eviscerating Pence for insisting several times that he and Trump did not make certain controversial statements during the campaign, such as that Putin was a stronger leader than Obama.
The video shows Kaine calling out Trump and Pence for making such a comment, and Pence shaking his head and insisting “No we haven’t.”
It then shows Pence telling CNN in September that “Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country.”
Trump trails Clinton in nearly all major national polls and is losing in several key battleground states, as the rivals head into their second presidential debate, on Sunday.
Polls show Clinton gaining in the wake of a punishing week for Trump, who has been hammered by controversies over his taxes and his treatment of women.
Kaine aimed to put Trump and his rhetoric in the spotlight from the beginning, saying the idea of the brash Republican as commander-in-chief “scares us to death.”
“I can’t imagine how Governor Pence can defend the insult-driven, selfish, me-first style of Donald Trump,” Kaine said.
“You would know a lot about an insult-driven campaign,” an imperturbable Pence shot back, highlighting Clinton’s relentless criticism of Trump and how she painted half of her Republican rival’s supporters as “deplorables.”
Kaine sought to drill down on issues that appeared to have given Clinton a bump in the polls demanding Trump release his tax returns and mocking the White House hopeful for some of his impulsive social media missteps during the campaign.
“Donald Trump can’t start a Twitter war with Miss Universe without shooting himself in the foot,” Kaine said, referring to Trump’s rants against Alicia Machado, a beauty queen whom he called “Miss Piggy” when she gained weight after winning her crown.
Pence stressed that a Trump administration would act more forcefully against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“If Russia chooses to be involved and continue… in this barbaric attack on Aleppo, the United States of America should use military force to strike the targets of the Assad regime,” he said.Punch