From a purely superficial standpoint, Pence did a pretty decent job tonight. Tim Kaine was a bit overeager (can you blame him?) to pin Trump to Pence’s hide. His attempts to fact-check Pence at every turn mostly resulted in a lot of crosstalk. Pence, on the other hand, was composed, especially compared to his running mate in the last debate. The worst pundits will say Pence won because Kaine couldn’t stop running his mouth and Pence could.
Over the course of 90 minutes Pence argued, again and again, that Kaine’s invocation of Trump’s racist, sexist, and demeaning remarks against women and minorities and his ignorant comments about foreign policy was typical political smearing. He implied that Kaine was intentionally misleading the American people by simply describing his running mate’s positions and that, by doing so, Hillary Clinton and Kaine were the ones running an “insult-driven” campaign.
Most remarkably, Pence argued that Trump never held any of the positions he has held or said any of the things that he has said. Pence lied about Trump’s immigration proposals, his comments about abortion, his tax policy, his feelings toward (and possible business ties to) Russia and Vladimir Putin. And at every opportunity, Pence said that, actually, it was Hillary Clinton who was close to Russia or was the real boor. (It should be no surprise that Trump’s campaign issued a release during the debate alleging that Clinton has close ties to Russia.) Pence’s strategy was to gaslight viewers and to confuse what have been very clear distinctions between the two campaigns.
But whatever style points that Pence got, he was bludgeoned for 90 minutes with nearly every horrible thing Donald Trump has said over the last 15 months. And, if cable news does its job (there’s a good chance it won’t), Pence’s lies will be quickly exposed.