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Will Mike Pence break with Donald Trump over his tax returns?

Tasos Katopidis/Getty

Pence’s job is straightforward, even if it isn’t always very easy: He has to sell Trump to wary Republicans by making him seem reasonable and to convince voters that he will be a steady hand in crisis. Over the last two months, Pence has often seemed like a cleanup crew: a guy who can look in the eye of any interviewer, smile, and say, “Well, that was just Donald being Donald.” Just two weeks after the Democratic convention, Pence was already being labeled “Trump’s apologist-in-chief.”

But Pence has also occasionally broken with Trump. Often, he’s cleared a path for Trump to follow him: He endorsed Paul Ryan days before Trump did and said that Barack Obama was born in the United States days before Trump (sort of) did. He also released a statement calling Captain Humayun Khan a hero while his running-mate was viciously attacking his father, Khizr Khan, who spoke at the DNC with his wife.

Pence is going to get asked about Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns and the three pages of his 1995 returns that The New York Times published on Sunday, which showed a $916 million loss. When asked on Good Morning America about the fact that Trump seemed to admit to not paying income tax in the first presidential debate, Pence quickly came to the rescue with some Midwestern charm: “Oh no, gosh, no,” Pence said. “He said afterward that he’s paid federal taxes. .... I think he’s joked in the past about ... like any good businessman, he works to pay as little taxes as he can.”

But that answer will be harder to deliver on Tuesday, given what we know now. A break from Trump seems unlikely, since he has strongly signaled that he has no plan to release his returns and has defiantly suggested that paying no income tax makes him smart. Still, Pence’s answer to the question will be illuminating: It could show the distance between the two candidates or it could show how the Trump-Pence campaign is planning to respond to the rash of attacks that they are surely expecting over the campaign’s final month.