Mike Pence had no coherent response to the problem of Donald Trump’s tax returns.

Pence must have known that he would have to answer a question about Trump’s failure to release his tax returns. And he was surely expecting Tim Kaine to hit him about The New York Times’s publication of three pages of Trump’s 1995 return, which showed a declared $916 million loss.

And yet, to defend Trump’s decision to (possibly) not pay taxes for nearly two decades, Pence made three contradictory claims. The first was that Trump was a businessman who had faced tough times. Trump’s returns “show that he faced some pretty tough times 20 years ago,” Pence said. The second was that Trump was hugely successful and his evasion of taxes led to the creation of tens of thousands of jobs. And finally, he argued that the tax code that Trump took advantage of actively encourages the kind of entrepreneurship that Trump is so good at (and sometimes bad at): “We have a tax code that actually is designed to encourage entrepreneurship ... he went through a very difficult time, but he used the tax code just the way it’s supposed to be used.”

Pence had weeks to prepare for this question. When he finally got it, he flailed.