Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine sought to make the case why Republican nominee Donald Trump shouldn't be president on Tuesday night — but Trump's running mate attempted to foil him at every turn.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence appeared mostly unruffled throughout the only vice presidential debate as Hillary Clinton's running mate tried to put him on the defensive about some of Trump's more controversial comments throughout the 2016 campaign.
"I'm just saying facts about your running mate, and I know you can't defend him," Kaine said, after listing statements Trump made about women, immigrants and a Hispanic Indiana judge that he argued illustrate Trump's lack of preparedness for the office.
"I'm happy to defend him, senator, don't put words in my mouth that I'm not defending him," Pence replied. "I'm happy to defend him, most of what you said is completely false, and the American people know that."
Kaine quickly pivoted back to conservative principles like gun rights and the right to life, and defended the need to protect Americans first by blocking immigration from countries that could harbor terrorists — also one of Trump's more controversial positions. Kaine hit hard on this week's New York Times report that Trump may not have paid taxes for years, but Pence argued that Trump only used the law the way it was intended to be used.
Of Republican consultant Frank Luntz's focus group, 22 participants said they believed Pence won the vice presidential debate, and 4 said they believed Kaine won.
CNN's focus group, on the other hand, swayed heavily toward Kaine — but many pointed out that the group was made up of voters from Virginia — Kaine's home state.
Umm. They are all Virginia voters, correct? Kaine popular senator/governor there. https://t.co/DkNA35RKEV— Patrick Murray (@PollsterPatrick) October 5, 2016
The debate focused mostly on foreign policy and terrorism concerns, but the two vice presidential candidates — relatively unknown quantities nationally — also spent a significant chunk of time introducing themselves and explaining their records to the American people.
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, (R-Wis.), said in a statement after the debate that Pence had articulated the conservative plans to grow the economy, add jobs and combat terrorism.
"[Pence] delivered a strong view of the conservative principles that drive our party and provided clear contrast between the policies of a Trump-Pence administration and four more years of failed Obama-era policies," Ryan said.
After the debate, Clinton's team argued that Pence was more concerned with defending his own legacy and future political fortunes than standing up for Trump.
Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon told reporters that Pence's performance was more geared toward a 2020 run of his own than Trump's in 2016.
Clinton and Trump will face off in their second presidential debate on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 9 p.m. in St. Louis, Missouri.
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