WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s running mate good-naturedly smiled, shook his head, and denied things his partner has said when confronted with those words during the election’s only vice-presidential debate Tuesday.
Political veteran Mike Pence bobbed and weaved with the dexterity of a pro when his partner’s statements were tossed at him. He switched the subject. A few times, he switched to a parallel universe.
Trump’s would-be vice-president denied, denied, denied.
“The campaign of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine has been an avalanche of insults,” said the Indiana governor as he calmly parried the aggressive attacks of his Democratic counterpart Tim Kaine.
He was asked why Trump suggested more nations get nuclear weapons.
“He never said that,” Pence replied.
He was asked why he and his running mate called Russian strongman Vladimir Putin a better leader than President Barack Obama.
“No, we haven’t,” Pence shot back.
Oh, yes they have.
Trump has also suggested new countries might want to get nuclear weapons to defend themselves, lest the U.S. stop covering the costs of defending them. That prompted a heated exchange on nuclear proliferation.
Hillary Clinton’s ally cited Republican hero Ronald Reagan on the danger of nuclear proliferation. Kaine, the senator and former Virginia governor said: “Some fool or maniac could trigger a catastrophic event. And I think that’s who Governor Pence’s running mate is — exactly who Ronald Reagan warned us about.”
Pence shot back: “Senator, that was even beneath you and Hillary Clinton. And that’s pretty low.” He professed pride in being Trump’s running mate.
Yet when confronted a few times on specific issues, he strayed from his partner’s positions.
In an emotional exchange about police shootings, Pence stressed the need for criminal justice reform. Yet that flies in the face of Trump’s consistent, years-long preference for law-and-order and opposition to criminal-justice reform.
Pence also called for protecting Syrian civilians by bombing pro-Assad targets, despite the potential for escalated tensions with Russia. That’s new for the campaign; Trump favours a clear focus against Assad’s enemy, ISIL.
Kaine repeatedly tried needling his rival on things like Trump’s words against Mexican migration, in general, and against a Mexican-American judge specifically; against abortion, and against a former Miss Universe. Late in the debate, Kaine listed six such examples.
“In all six cases he’s refused to defend his running mate,” Kaine said.
“Yet he’s asking everybody to vote for somebody he cannot defend.”
Pence remained calm throughout.
When Kaine brought up the prospect of the mass-expulsion of millions of migrants, and suggested the Republicans would create a deportation force, Pence fired back: “Senator, we have a deportation force. It’s called Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.”
Again, near the end of the debate, Kaine tried bringing up Trump’s suggestion that women should be punished for abortions. It was a slip of the tongue earlier this year that Trump later walked back, and for the most part his campaign has avoided social issues.
Pence said his partner isn’t a polished politician, and says the wrong thing sometimes.
“I couldn’t be more proud to be standing by Donald Trump,” the Republican said.
“(He’s) standing for the right to life.”
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