Sweet: Calm Pence doesn’t take Kaine’s bait, cooly defends Trump

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine (left) and Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence shake hands during the vice-presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Virgina, on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. | David Goldman/AP

Follow @lynnsweetWASHINGTON — WASHINGTON — A smooth-talking Mike Pence calmly ignored the hits against Donald Trump that an overeager Tim Kaine threw at him at the one and only vice presidential debate Tuesday night.

Pence and Kaine battled at Longwood University in Farmwood, Virginia, waging a proxy war on behalf of Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Pence walked onto the stage with the harder job because Trump was coming off of his worst campaign week ever.

Compared to the outsized personas of Trump and Hillary Clinton, the men they picked to be their running mates cut more conventional figures and are little-known to the public.

Pence did well for Trump. If you didn’t know how off the wall Trump was — well, you might have thought, listening to Pence, a former talk radio host, that Trump was rational.

On the Trump/Pence ticket, it’s Pence who looked presidential.

Kaine took a surprising tack, deciding to interrupt Pence constantly. He also used too many obviously canned lines about being “stronger together” and how Pence is “Donald Trump’s apprentice,” by now a tired reference to Trump’s hit reality show.

It’s hard, it turns out, to debate Trump when he’s not on the stage.

OPINION

Follow @lynnsweetPence bested Kaine in style. But Kaine’s hammering at Pence did reveal how reluctant Pence was to defend Trump at all costs.

A glaring example of Pence’s reluctance to engage 100 percent for Trump — either by intention or oversight — came at an exchange near the top about trust, Clinton’s big vulnerability.

“We have a son deployed overseas in the Marine Corps right now. We trust Hillary Clinton as president and commander-in-chief, but the thought of Donald Trump as commander-in-chief scares us to death,” Kaine said.

Pence just let that hang.

He did accuse Clinton and Kaine of waging a campaign that has “been an avalanche of insults.” But the insults are Trump’s. Kaine and Clinton just throw his words back at him.

At one point when Kaine and Pence were going at it, the frustrated moderator, Elaine Quijano of CBS News implored them to stop because the “people at home cannot understand either one of you when you speak over each other.”

Quijano is from Chicago and attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, according to CBS.

Pence stumbled over Trump’s non-release of his federal return. He gave the misleading answer that Trump will disclose his returns, though he has consistently refused.

Pence was not prepared to deal with the New York Times story about how Trump used an almost billion-dollar loss in the mid-1990s to potentially wipe out personally paying federal taxes for 18 years.

“He used the tax code just the way it’s supposed to be used. And he did it brilliantly,” Pence said.

Kaine drove through the opening: “How do you know that? You haven’t seen his tax returns.”

Pence also earns demerits for obfuscating. He tried to deflect attention away from payment of federal taxes by noting that Trump pays payroll and property taxes. That’s an apple and oranges argument.

No matter whether Trump or Clinton is elected, either of them will be the oldest president to assume office. Trump is 70 and Clinton turns 69 on Oct. 26. The current record holder is President Ronald Reagan, who was a few weeks shy of 70 in 1981 when he was sworn in.

Pence, 57, is governor of Indiana; Kaine, 58, was governor of Virginia. Both men know their way around the Capitol. Pence was a six-term House member and Kaine is a first-term senator. Both are Catholics. Both have sons in the Marines.

Trump, who brushed off any arduous prep, was bested by Hillary Clinton in their first debate at Hofstra University in New York.

In contrast to Trump, Pence threw himself into prep for the debate.

Pence started prep soon after Trump tapped him to be his running mate this summer. Pence used Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as a stand-in for Kaine.

Pence’s vice presidential team is led by Nick Ayers, who ran Gov. Bruce Rauner’s 2014 Illinois gubernatorial campaign.

Kaine tapped into Clinton’s seasoned team of debate operatives to help him prep.

While Pence did well, it may not matter, since there are two more presidential debates.

Hovering over the only vice presidential faceoff was Trump, watching from a Las Vegas hotel — and tweeting like mad. It’s not clear this has sunk in yet: Pence showed his boss how a debate is done.

Tweets by @lynnsweet

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