It was Tim Kaine who launched the first accusation that his opponents were relying on insults during the campaign. “I can’t imagine,” the Democratic vice-presidential candidate said, “how Governor Pence can defend the insult-driven selfish ‘me first’ style of Donald Trump.”
Gov. Mike Pence quickly replied. “Well, let me — let me say first and foremost that, senator, you and Hillary Clinton would know a lot about an insult-driven campaign. It really is remarkable,” he rebutted. Over the course of the vice-presidential debate, Pence repeatedly made the same charge: It was Kaine and Clinton who were the ones being insulting, not he and Donald Trump. At times, Pence made his case by directly accusing Kaine of being insulting. At times he simply shook his head while Kaine was speaking.
“I was listening to the avalanche of insults coming out of Senator Kaine a minute ago,” Pence, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, said at one point.
Kaine jumped in. “These were Donald’s — hold on a second, governor.”
“He says ours is an insult-driven campaign,” Pence continued, once moderator Elaine Quijano reminded Kaine that it was Pence’s time to speak. “Did you all just hear that? Ours is an insult-driven campaign?”
What were those insults Kaine was leveling? Here’s what he said immediately prior:
• “Donald Trump during his campaign has called Mexicans rapists and criminals.” This is true. Trump said during his campaign announcement that when Mexico “send its people” that “[t]hey’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
• “He's called women slobs, pigs, dogs, disgusting. I don’t like saying that in front of my wife and my mother.” Trump called Rosie O'Donnell a slob and a pig in 2007. He called O’Donnell a degenerate. He called Arianna Huffington a dog on Twitter.
• “He attacked an Indiana-born federal judge and said he was unqualified to hear a federal lawsuit because his parents were Mexican.” This happened earlier this year.
• “He went after John McCain, a POW, and said he wasn’t a hero because he’d been captured.” This isn’t exactly what Trump said. Trump said that McCain wasn’t a hero — but if he was, it’s because he was captured.
• “He said African Americans are living in hell.” Trump said this last week.
• “And he perpetrated this outrageous and bigoted lie that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen.” Trump hinted that President Obama might not be a citizen for years, from 2011 until January of this year.
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?
Data from Facebook indicates that the fight over which campaign was “insult-driven” was the most talked-about part of the debate. During the live back-and-forth, Pence’s rejoinder was probably fairly effective. Upon review? Not so much.