Roger Simon: Kaine gnaws on Pence and won’t let go
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Until Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Republican Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana had never met each other face to face.
Which was probably a good thing.
For 90 minutes onstage at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, went after Pence like an irate terrier nipping at a dignified, white-haired Afghan hound.
Polls show that the public does not like the fact that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has not released his tax returns. So Kaine decided to remind the public of that — 20 times or so.
Or maybe it just seemed like 20 times to Pence, Trump’s running mate. And Kaine got other nips in there, too.
“Donald Trump can’t start a Twitter war with Miss Universe without shooting himself in the foot,” Kaine said, apropos of something or other.
“He loves dictators,” Kaine went on, apropos of something else. “He’s got kind of a personal Mount Rushmore: Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Moammar Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein.”
Pence was prepared. Pence had his defense lines ready. But you could tell the Mount Rushmore line rocked him just a little.
Mount Rushmore? How did we get to Mount Rushmore?
“Ronald Reagan said something really interesting about nuclear proliferation back in the 1980s,” Kaine said, and you could see Pence wondering once again where the heck this was going.
“He said the problem with nuclear proliferation is that some fool or maniac could trigger a catastrophic event,” Kaine said, “and I think that’s who Gov. Pence’s running mate is.”
Pence looked as if somebody had slapped him with a rolled-up newspaper. “Oh, come on, senator,” Pence said. “That was even beneath you and Hillary Clinton. And that, that’s pretty low.”
Give Pence a style point on that one. But style points were about the only points that Pence could win on. Substance points were a lot harder.
Kaine’s multitudinous mentions of Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns became a joke. But there was very little Pence could say to combat it because Pence has never seen the returns and does not know whether more returns are forthcoming.
“He actually built a business,” Pence said, stumbling to get on positive ground. “Those tax returns that came out publicly this week showed that he faced some pretty tough times 20 years ago. But like virtually every other business, including The New York Times not too long ago, he used what’s called net operating loss. We have a tax code, senator, that actually is designed to encourage entrepreneurship.”
To which Kaine snarkily replied, “But why won’t he release his tax returns?”
“His tax returns showed he went through a very difficult time, but he used the tax code just the way it’s supposed to be used, and he did it brilliantly,” Pence said.
And with that, the trap snapped shut.
“How do you know that?” Kaine said. “You haven’t seen his tax returns.”
“Because he’s created a business that’s worth billions of dollars today,” Pence said.
“How do you know that?” Kaine asked, nipping away again.
“Donald Trump has created tens of thousands of jobs, and he’s paid payroll taxes, sales taxes, property taxes…” Pence stumbled on.
And here Kaine quoted Trump’s infamous line about not paying his taxes: “That makes me smart.”
“So it’s smart not to pay for our military,” Kaine said. “It’s smart not to pay for veterans. It’s smart not to pay for teachers. And I guess all of us who do pay for those things, I guess we’re stupid.”
The debate went back and forth. And in the end, you could give it to the Afghan hound for his style or to the terrier, who reminded us that in September, Pence released 10 years of his own tax returns.
“Gov. Pence had to give Donald Trump his tax returns to show he was qualified to be vice president,” Kaine said. “Donald Trump must give the American public his tax returns to show that he’s qualified to be president.”
Roger Simon’s new e-book, “Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America,” can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes.
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