Pence’s strategy last night was to try to gaslight viewers. He claimed that Trump had not, in fact, made a host of disqualifying remarks. He said the idea that Trump was a bigot and a boor was an invention of the media and Hillary Clinton. He did not defend Trump so much as he denied what Trump has said and done. (Mitt Romney did something similar in the first debate of 2012 and succeeded in throwing Barack Obama off his game.) Pence’s refusal to be goaded, moreover, was a course correction from Trump’s disastrous first debate performance: He seemed like a steady hand, even if he made few truthful statements during the 90-minute debate.
At the same time, Pence distanced himself from many of Trump’s most controversial positions, such as the wholesale deportation of undocumented immigrants in the United States. And there are suggestions that Pence’s performance was not looked on wholly favorably by his boss. While the general consensus is that the debate was something of a draw—that Tim Kaine’s badgering and Pence’s lying canceled each other out—Pence has been widely praised by the right. He was compared favorably to Trump, which will surely needle the insecure megalomaniac.
Just as importantly, Trump is someone who privileges loyalty above nearly everything else, and Pence’s refusal to explicitly defend his comments and positions may not sit well with him. These tweets from John Harwood sure are interesting:
We are currently on Trump meltdown watch.