Governor Pence won the debate by pretending that his running mate was Ronald Reagan. He will suffer from the fact checking tomorrow, but most Americans may not notice or care. A frustrating night for Tim Kaine, who thought there might be a chance for real engagement. The good news for Clinton/Kaine is that this night's contest matters more for 2020 than 2016.
Pence was brought on the ticket as the link to mainstream GOP politics. And in fact he perfectly expresses the core folly and failing of the GOP's leadership: their denial of what they have unleashed in America by nominating Trump. Pence denies the insults, the racism, the admiration for dictators, acting as though Kaine is saying "ridiculous" things by even raising them. He is there to soothe the conscience of Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator John McCain and all other GOP leaders who refuse to retract their endorsement of this rogue individual, no matter what he says or does.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University.
Commentary from Timothy Stanley
In another year, Mike Pence would've been considered a risky choice for a Republican ticket -- being a very conservative governor. This year he brings maturity to the debate. So marked is the contrast with Trump that Pence's assured performance might reassure voters that Trump is outrageous but he knows how to hire well.
Kaine is punchy and making some good points, but many viewers will simply be distracted by Pence's relative smoothness. That said, Kaine's gag that Trump has a "personal Mount Rushmore" of Putin, Saddam, Gaddafi and Kim Jung-il was brilliant. And would make a great feature on a Trump miniature golf course.
Timothy Stanley is a historian and columnist for Britain's Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between L.A. and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics."
Commentary from Lanhee Chen
Thirty minutes into this debate, Mike Pence is demonstrating why he was a smart pick as Donald Trump's VP. He appeals to those conservatives who have been dissatisfied with Trump, by demonstrating both good temperament and familiarity with policy. His answers sound surprisingly normal compared to those given by his running mate at the first debate last week. Tim Kaine, on the other hand, seems to be content to take the Donald Trump approach to debating -- interrupting, hectoring, and insulting. Pence's performance tonight will make some wonder why he's not the one at the top of the ticket.
Lanhee J. Chen is a CNN Political Commentator and the David and Diane Steffy Research Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He was the policy director of the Romney-Ryan 2012 campaign and served as Governor Mitt Romney's chief policy adviser.
Commentary from Roxanne Jones
In 2008, I was canvassing the country registering people to vote. Not for any specific party, just asking people if they were registered to vote and handing out forms. Indiana was my state. At one door, a teenage girl answered the door, saw my brown face and whispered: "Please get off my porch. If my daddy sees you he might shoot." She was trying to warn me and looked slightly ashamed. Luckily, I had an older white woman with me, we were partners. We both left immediately. So Pence, tone matters and I agree with Kaine, we should not be afraid to discuss racial bias if we want to solve the problem.
Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, writes frequently for CNN Opinion.
Commentary from Julian Zelizer
Pence hasn't spent much time, almost any, talking about Trump and what he brings to the table as president. Focusing instead on Clinton's foreign policy record—going directly after her claims of experience and expertise.
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and a New America fellow
Commentary from Julian Zelizer
Both candidates must remember that they are making a case about the party nominees, not themselves. The winner of this debate will help frame the discussion going into Sunday.
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and a New America fellow.
Commentary from Frida Ghitis
Cold fact to remember as we watch the vice presidential debate: Donald Trump is 70 years old. Hillary Clinton is 68. One of the men running for Vice President could, in fact, become president.
Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent.