One of the trickiest tasks facing Republican vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence in his 90 minutes of fame this 2016 campaign was to simply try to defend running mate Donald Trump on, well, name a controversy. On a lot.
The Indiana governor decided to ignore that challenge completely. Instead, Pence spent much of the surprisingly contentious vice-presidential debate Tuesday night defending a Trump that does not exist.
Pence repeatedly championed policies Trump has eschewed. Or he chose not to defend Trump at all. It underscored the two politicians’ already notable policy differences on everything from President Obama’s birthplace, to a Muslim immigration ban, to the Iraq War, to much more.
Here are a few of the entries Pence added to that list in Tuesday’s debate:
What Pence said at the debate: "At a time of great challenge in the life of this nation, where we’ve weakened America’s place in the world, stifled America’s economy, the campaign of [Democrats] Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine has been an avalanche of insults."
How it differs from Trump’s position: About the time Pence was saying this, Trump was literally tweeting out insults.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
What Pence said: “The small and bullying leader of Russia is not dictating terms to the United States. We have got to be able to lean into this with strong, broad-shouldered American leadership.”
How it differs from Trump: Trump has basically done the opposite of call Putin “bullying” or “small.” He has repeatedly flattered the Russian president and refused to denounce him despite near-universal agreement among U.S. leaders and foreign-policy experts that Putin disregards human rights.
As recently as September’s commander in chief forum, Trump defended Putin, saying he expects to have a “very, very good relationship with Putin.”
Trump went on: “Well, he does have an 82 percent approval rating, according to the different pollsters, who, by the way, some of them are based right here.”
Our investigative team found Trump’s warm relationship with Putin and financial ties to Russia go back decades.
What Pence said: That the United States should consider striking a key Russian military ally, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
“The provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength,” Pence said. “The United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime."
How this differs from Trump: Trump has not said much about how he would battle the Islamic State, which controls portions of the war-ravaged Syria, only to say he has a “secret” plan. But we do know that far from striking a key ally of Russia in that region of the world, Trump has said the United States could work with Russia. Here’s what he said at September's commander in chief forum:
“The beautiful part of getting along: Russia wants to defeat ISIS as badly as we do. If we had a relationship with Russia, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could work on it together and knock the hell out of ISIS? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?”
What Pence said: “Senator, you whipped out that Mexican thing again,” Pence said in response to Kaine mentioning, yet again, that Trump had referred to undocumented immigrants as “rapists” and that they were “bringing crime,” during his campaign launch.
When Kaine asked whether Pence could defend it, Pence said this of Trump: “He also said, ‘And many of them are good people,’ and you keep leaving that out of your quote.”
How it differs from Trump: Trump actually said, “Some, I assume, are good people.” The full quote is below:
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’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. And some, I assume, are good people.”
The broader point here is that Pence tried to play down one of Trump’s most controversial statements of the presidential campaign — one that cost him a deal with Macy’s. This was one of the few times during the debate that Pence tried to directly defend something Trump said, and he factually missed the mark. And he made an awkward comment to boot about “that Mexican thing.”
Where they agree: Trump’s taxes
Trump has not denied a New York Times report detailing a $916 million loss in income in 1995 that would have allowed Trump to avoid paying federal income taxes for the next 18 years. Instead, he has called the notion that he knew how to avoid paying taxes “smart.”
On Tuesday, Pence also did not deny news that Trump may have gone nearly two decades without paying federal income taxes. He, too, praised the notion:
“His tax returns showed he went through a very difficult time,” Pence said, “but he used the tax code the way it was meant to be used, and he used it brilliantly.”