Following the 2016 vice presidential debate moderated by CBS’ Elaine Quijano, media figures slammed Mike Pence for repeatedly dodging and denying past statements made by his running mate Donald Trump, asserting Pence “couldn't defend” his running mate.
During Vice Presidential Debate, Tim Kaine Used Donald Trump’s Own Words To Criticize Trump/Pence Ticket
Wash. Post: “Mike Pence Can’t Believe Tim Kaine Would Insult Donald Trump By Quoting Him.” In an October 4 article for the Washington Post, Philip Bump wrote that Pence attempted to “suggest that quoting Trump is somehow an unfair disparagement of him,” that “doesn’t work well when you isolate the charges that were made”:
There are no insults there by Kaine about Trump. Those are things Trump said.
I mean, to be honest with you, if Donald Trump had said all of the things that you've said he said in the way you said he said them,” Pence continued, “he still wouldn’t have a fraction of the insults that Hillary Clinton leveled when she said that half of our supporters were a ‘basket of deplorables.’ It’s — she said they were irredeemable, they were not American.”
Clinton did say that half of Trump's supporters could be put into a ‘basket of deplorables,’ admitting the next day that “half" was overly broad. Kaine pointed this out to Pence, noting that Trump hadn’t apologized for any of the comments above.
But, really, what was Pence going to do? It’s clever to suggest that quoting Trump is somehow an unfair disparagement of him. It doesn’t work as well when you isolate the charges that were made. For someone watching at home, though, it’s more effective. Yeah, one might wonder, why is Tim Kaine saying all those mean things about Trump? [Washington Post, 10/4/16]
Media Figures: Pence “Couldn’t Defend” Trump’s Statements And Even Denied He Had Said Them
CNN’s Gloria Borger: Pence “Couldn’t Defend Some Of The Things That Donald Trump Has Said.” On the October 4 edition of CNN’s Debate Night in America, CNN political analyst Gloria Borger stated “Mike Pence is better at attacking Clinton than he is at defending Donald Trump,” adding Pence “couldn’t defend some of the things that Donald Trump has said”:
GLORIA BORGER: I think that Mike Pence is better at attacking Clinton than he is at defending Donald Trump. There were so many times that he was pushed by Tim Kaine, who said it over and over again, “I can't imagine how you can defend Donald Trump,” it was almost the new lockbox of this debate, and Pence didn't.
I mean, every time he was sort of pushed, “would you defend, would you defend,” there were a couple of times maybe he did on Russia, but generally what he did was he tried to flip it, because he couldn't defend some of the things that Donald Trump has said. And I think they realized in their debate prep, it was clear they were prepared for this, that they weren't going to take the bait. [CNN, Debate Night in America, 10/4/16]
CNN’s John King: “What Governor Pence Was Saying Either Was At Odds With Things Trump Had Said, Or Were Things That Donald Trump Has Never Said.” On the October 4 edition of CNN’s Debate Night in America, CNN correspondent John King said “a lot of the things Governor Pence said today are at odds with things Donald Trump has said on the campaign trail,” adding “what Governor Pence was saying either was at odds with things Trump had said, or were things that Donald Trump had never said”:
JOHN KING: A lot of the things Governor Pence said today are at odds with things Donald Trump has said on the campaign trail. So, Governor Pence wasn’t always just debating Tim Kaine, at times especially how do you talk about Vladimir Putin, what would you do in Syria? What Governor Pence was saying either was at odds with things Trump had said, or were things that Donald Trump has never said. [CNN, Debate Night in America, 10/4/16]
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: “Mike Pence Spent A Lot Of This Debate Denying That Those [Trump] Quotes Have Been Said.” On the October 4 edition of MSNBC’s Live Post Debate, host Rachel Maddow stated that “Tim Kaine spent a lot of this debate quoting Donald Trump directly, and Mike Pence spent a lot of this debate denying those quotes have been said”:
RACHEL MADDOW: The overall, most pronounced dynamic that you could discern between the two men was Tim Kaine, basically the shorter version of this debate is Tim Kaine saying, “Hey, you guys are running Donald Trump for president, here's this crazy thing that he said,” and then Mike Pence would respond by saying “No way, no way, that's not possible. Come on. Come on, you know that's not true.”
Tim Kaine spent a lot of this debate quoting Donald Trump directly, and Mike Pence spent a lot of this debate denying that those quotes had been said. [MSNBC, Live Post Debate, 10/4/16]
PBS’ John Yang: Despite Pence’s Claims, “Trump Told The New York Times That It May Not Be Such A Bad Thing ... If Japan, South Korea And Saudi Arabia Had Nuclear Weapons.” On the October 4 edition of PBS’ NewsHour, PBS correspondent John Yang reported that despite Pence’s statements, “in March Trump told the New York Times that it may not be such a bad thing for the United States if Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia had nuclear weapons”:
JOHN YANG: Mike Pence also got into a little trouble when he was talking about the top of his ticket, Donald Trump, but it came in defending Mr. Trump when -- against the allegation, Tim Kaine saying that Trump had said that more nations should get nuclear weapons, Pence came back, “He never said that Senator, you know it.”
In fact, in March Trump told the New York Times that it may not be such a bad thing for the United States if Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia had nuclear weapons. [PBS, PBS NewsHour, 10/4/16]
ABC’s Byron Pitts: “The Comment By Governor Pence” That Trump Didn’t Say Insulting Comments “Was False.” During ABC’s October 4 post-debate coverage, ABC’s Byron Pitts fact-checked Pence’s denial of Trump’s insults, and said, “the facts are, we conclude that the comment by Governor Pence was false”:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So, Byron Pitts, you were taking a look at at these statements. Why don't we go through them.
BYRON PITTS: Well, George, Donald Trump did say, in 2015, that Mexicans bring in drugs, they bring in crime, they're rapists. He did say in 2006, in an interview with Fox News, he called Rosie O'Donnell a slob. Donald Trump did say in the first debate that blacks, that African-Americans are living in hell. So, the facts are, we conclude that the comment by Governor Pence was false. [ABC, Vice Presidential Debate, 10/4/16]
NY Times Editorial Board: Pence “Simply Ignored The Donald Trump We Have Seen On The Trail.” The New York Times editorial board wrote that Pence “simply ignored the Donald Trump we have seen on the trail for more than a year” and “instead dreamed up a more conventional, right-wing Republican.” Pence, added the board, “has been engaged in the same compromising maneuvers that Republican leaders like Paul Ryan, the House speaker, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, have been performing almost daily.” From the October 5 editorial:
Mr. Pence simply ignored the Donald Trump we have seen on the trail for more than a year — the one who would build a wall against Mexico, the one who would disregard our security treaties and tear up our trade agreements, the one with a crush on Vladimir Putin — and instead dreamed up a more conventional, right-wing Republican, a Republican, that is, very like Mike Pence.
But Mr. Pence has his own political aspirations and abandoned his re-election bid for governor to sign on with Mr. Trump when he was surging.
Since then, Mr. Pence has been engaged in the same compromising maneuvers that Republican leaders like Paul Ryan, the House speaker, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, have been performing almost daily since they reluctantly embraced their party’s standard-bearer.
On Tuesday night, Mr. Pence resorted at times to repeating some of Mr. Trump’s own thin claims, including his preposterous justification for not releasing his tax returns. And he simply ducked rather than try to address questions about Mr. Trump’s egregious attacks on women and minorities; instead, he accused the Democrats of unleashing “an avalanche of insults” on his running mate. [The New York Times, 10/5/16]
Wash. Post Editorial Board: Pence “Defend[ed] The Indefensible Donald Trump ... By Conjuring A Candidate Who Does Not Exist.” The Washington Post editorial board wrote that Pence “had to defend the indefensible Donald Trump” and “did so by conjuring a candidate who does not exist.” Added the board, “It was as if he was defending the running mate he wished he had.” From the October 4 editorial:
TUESDAY NIGHT’S vice presidential debate was more of a proxy war between this year’s presidential candidates than a contest about capabilities of the two men on stage. In that sense, it was an unfair fight: Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) had to defend the indefensible Donald Trump. To a large extent, he did so by conjuring a candidate who does not exist — a Reaganesque supporter of a muscular foreign policy, small government and traditional Christian values. It was as if he was defending the running mate he wished he had.
Repeatedly over the course of Tuesday’s debate, Mr. Kaine exclaimed that he could not believe Mr. Pence could defend Mr. Trump’s behavior and record. In a way, Mr. Kaine was right — a polished Mr. Pence largely did not. [The Washington Post, 10/4/16]
CNN’s Sally Kohn: Pence “Refuse[d] To Acknowledge Any Of The Horrible Things That Donald Trump Has Actually Said.” CNN’s Sally Kohn wrote that Pence “refuse[d] to acknowledge any of the horrible things that Donald Trump has actually said” and “acted like Kaine was …. making these things up.” Kohn added that Pence, like Trump, was trying to “bend the concept of fact.” From the October 5 piece:
Well it turns out, if you refuse to acknowledge any of the horrible things that Donald Trump has actually said, then it's pretty easy to defend him.
This was the main takeaway from the vice presidential debate. Over and over again, Democratic VP nominee Tim Kaine tried valiantly to hold Republican Mike Pence accountable for the misogynistic, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, pro-Putin things that his running mate Donald Trump has said. And over and over again, Pence acted like Kaine was not only making these things up but, in so doing, actually perpetrating a campaign of insults simply by repeating the things that Donald Trump had said yet Mike Pence refused to acknowledge. I'm pretty impressed that Kaine's head didn't explode. Mine certainly came close.
I don't know how you debate someone who seems to have encamped himself on a different planet. Yet to his credit, Mike Pence dished out his flurry of lies with calm confidence -- while Tim Kaine, the truth-teller, came off as ruffled.
But if anything, the VP debate tests the relevance of facts in this election. Donald Trump and Mike Pence's strategy seems to be to repeat lies often enough to convince 51% of voters that they're the truth. And unfortunately, what actually is true doesn't matter as much as what voters believe to be true. Donald Trump has already bent the electoral process, the media and the boundaries of basic civility to his whims. He may now bend the concept of fact as well. Certainly, his loyal running mate is trying. [CNN.com, 10/5/16]
Slate’s Jamelle Bouie: Pence “Either Ignored” Trump’s Statements “Or Denied Them Outright.” Slate’s Jamelle Bouie wrote that “Rather than demure or decline when confronted with Donald Trump’s rhetoric and ideas, Pence denied that any of it happened.” Bouie also wrote that, by the standard of “whether they gave a fair and good-faith accounting of themselves and their politics to the public,” Pence was “a clear and abysmal failure” because “Pence either ignored [Trump’s statements] or denied them outright.” Bouie concluded that “If Pence ‘won’ the debate, it’s because he denied the truth even existed.” From the October 5 article:
But politics isn’t pure theater, and we shouldn’t use that standard. Who performed better is less important than whether the candidates were honest and truthful. Whether Kaine or Pence was polished and polite matters less than whether they gave a fair and good-faith accounting of themselves and their politics to the public. And by that standard, Mike Pence was a clear and abysmal failure.
Rather than demure or decline when confronted with Donald Trump’s rhetoric and ideas, Pence denied that any of it happened.
Again and again and again, Tim Kaine confronted Mike Pence on statements from his running mate, and again and again, Pence either ignored them or denied them outright, shaking his head and giving the audience a look of smarmy incredulity, as if Kaine were reading couplets from the Necronomicon. At a certain point, Pence even doubled down on the idea that Hillary Clinton had run an offensive, insult-driven campaign.
To call this winning is to act as if nothing matters. But vice presidents stand a real chance of sitting in the Oval Office. It matters. If Pence “won,” it’s because he denied the truth even existed. [Slate, 10/5/16]
The New Republic’s Jeet Heer: Pence “Told A Lot Of Lies” In Order To Defend Trump. The New Republic’s Jeet Heer wrote that Pence “told a lot of lies” in order to “defend his party’s nominee.” Heer added that when Kaine mentioned “Trump’s own words,” Pence “responded with a straight-out denial of the facts.” From the October 4 article:
But even though Pence delivered a polished performance, there was one striking similarity with Trump’s earlier debate performance: He told a lot of lies. That’s the position Trump has put him. To defend his party’s nominee, Pence must lie; but to defend his own honor, he must tell the truth—thereby betraying his party’s nominee.
What unites all these exchanges is that Kaine was being accurate and often summing up either the facts of the case or Trump’s own words, while Pence responded with a straight-out denial of the facts.
Trump has a way of tarnishing almost everyone around him because to work with him, they have to defend the indefensible. And Pence, as his running mate, is his chief defender. He did a good job of putting a reassuring, mainstream face on Trump’s extremism; it’s easy to imagine that his performance will greatly please the Republican base. But if politicians are measured by their honesty—which may be asking for too much these days—then Pence destroyed his reputation tonight. [The New Republic, 10/4/16]
CNN’s Alisyn Camerota: When Kaine “Tried To Use Trump’s Words Against Him, Pence Repeatedly Denied Them.” CNN’s New Day aired a compilation video the day after the vice presidential debate of Pence denying that Trump made various comments, followed by video of Trump making those comments. The examples in the video included Trump’s statement that he would punish women who have abortions, his promise to deport all undocumented immigrants, and his praise for Russian President Putin. From the October 5 edition of CNN’s New Day:
ALISYN CAMEROTA (CO-HOST): So, the GOP vice presidential nominee, Mike Pence, did not take much of the bait at last night’s VP debate. When his opponent, Tim Kaine, tried to use Trump’s words against him, Pence repeatedly denied them. But here is some of those exchanges and then what Trump actually said, watch this.
CHRIS CUOMO (CO-HOST): He’s shaking his head no, but he’s saying, I can’t believe I’ve got to answer this question, because Trump actually said it. That’s what’s going on. [CNN, New Day, 10/5/16]
This post has been updated to provide additional examples.