Donald Trump's vice-presidential running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, neatly illustrated the trickiness of the candidate's response to Hillary Clinton's comments about a "basket of deplorables" who are supporting Donald Trump.

The issue was broached in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Monday afternoon.

BLITZER: Let's get into this whole issue that Hillary Clinton raised the other night when she spoke about "the basket of deplorables." She said that half — in her initial statement, she said this, she said, "To be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the 'basket of deplorables' -- right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it." Afterwards, very quickly, within a day, she issued a statement saying she regretted saying half, it wasn't half. I spoke to her press secretary today, I said, "Well, what percentage," he wouldn't give me a percentage. But she said there are supporters — and you know this — there are some supporters of Donald Trump and Mike Pence who — David Duke, for example, some other white nationalists — who would fit into that category of deplorables. Right?
PENCE: As I've told you the last time I was on, I'm not really sure why the media keeps dropping David Duke's name. Donald Trump has denounced David Duke repeatedly. We don't want his support and we don't want the support of people who think like him.
BLITZER: So you call him a deplorable. You would call him deplorable.
PENCE: No, I'm not in the name-calling business, Wolf. You know me better than that. What Hillary Clinton did Friday night was shocking. I mean, the millions of people who support Donald Trump around this country are not a basket of anything. They are Americans. And they deserve the respect of the Democrat nominee for president of the United States. For her to rattle off this litany of pejoratives was just really shocking.

David Duke, then, is so inherently reprehensible given his stance on race that Trump and Pence refuse his support and, importantly, the support of those who share Duke's views. But Pence won't be so gauche as to use a word like "deplorable" to describe this person — although Duke himself embraces it.

Clinton's comments were tailored to include Duke and those who share similar — if not as extreme — views, but to exclude those who didn't. The point she was making (clumsily, as the campaign later admitted) was that Trump and Pence should not "[lift] them up" -- them meaning racists and xenophobes, etc. -- and "[give] voice to their websites." By declining to call Duke deplorable, so as not to appear to side with Clinton, Pence suggested that to do so was simply an act of "name-calling." In other words, he'd rather not say something negative about a former Klan grand wizard if it meant helping his political opponent. Which, broadly, was part of the point that Clinton was trying to make.

Blitzer noted that Clinton had expressed regret for saying that the number of those in that basket constituted fully half of Trump's support.

PENCE: She said she regretted saying "half." So what was it, 40 percent? Look, she has insulted millions of Americans. And her answer to that is to regret the math that she used. She has not apologized for doing this, she has not retracted this statement, and frankly we really question her ability to campaign [in] this country and reach out to hurting Americans, having expressed this statement and not apologized for it without qualifications.
I have to tell you, I'm out there campaigning each and every day. The people that are supporting Donald Trump across the country are hard-working Americans. They're moms and dads. They're factory workers, they're coal miners, they're farmers, they're small-business owners, they're veterans. And for her to make this sweeping generalization in front of a group of wealthy donors at a Barbra Streisand fundraiser in New York City is deeply offensive to millions of Americans. I just, I have to tell you that I thought it was an extraordinarily low moment. Whoever is president of the United States of America is president of all of the people of the United States of America, and she simply expressed contempt for millions of people in this country who simply want to make America great again.

Wealthy New Yorkers, amirite?

Pence's reply echoes what Trump said on the topic during a speech in Baltimore. Like Trump, he tried to agree with Clinton's assessment that some beliefs are beyond the pale but then extrapolate outward to imply that her comments were meant to lump in a bigger group of people.

The millions of people for whom Clinton expressed contempt are the "deplorables" who are racist, sexist and xenophobic. They, like Duke, hold contemptible views. How many millions are we talking about? It's hard to say, and it depends on your definitions of racist, xenophobic, homophobic and sexist — terms for which there isn't universal agreement.

There is some subset of Trump's support that is explicitly and unabashedly racist, sexist and xenophobic. There is another subset that implicitly holds those views by some definition. This is true of Clinton's base, too, but it is also the case that the explicit part of Trump's base is more vocal and visible than is Clinton's. It is also the case that the implicitly racist/sexist/xenophobic part of Trump's base is larger than Clinton's. Racism, sexism and xenophobia overlap strongly with whites, men and native-born Americans, in that order, assuming that one adheres to the understood definition of racism as being linked to power. And no group is more fervently supportive of Trump than white American men.

So "the math that she used" is the whole thing: You can argue that half is too much, but you can't argue that it's zero. And that's not a winning argument for Pence. What if it's not 40 percent, but 25 percent? Is that better?

Blitzer had one more question: "But you know that Donald Trump himself over the past year and a half has expressed contempt for all sorts of people out there, whether Mexican Americans, Muslims," he said. Blitzer noted that Trump had expressed "regret" for some unspecified things he'd said, asking Pence to clarify which things Trump regretted.

"You'd have to ask him about that," Pence replied. "Donald Trump is a man with broad shoulders, but he has a big heart. He cares about people."

After the broadcast, Pence said reporters were ignoring the full context of the quote:

The difficulty Pence faces: He may not want to talk about who is or isn't "deplorable." Unfortunately, his campaign does.