Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has a tough job Tuesday -- defending actions and statements by Donald Trump
Watch the vice presidential debate Tuesday night at 9 pm ET on CNN
The last time Mike Pence was on a debate stage, four years ago in Indiana, he was carrying the Republican brand as a clear front-runner touting the record of highly popular Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Tuesday, he’ll be playing clean up for Donald Trump, the most unpredictable and unruly candidate to ever top the Republican ticket.
Since the first presidential debate last week, Trump has become consumed by controversy marked by his own stumbles, late-night tweets and capped by The New York Times report that he lost over $900 million in 1995, which may have helped him avoid paying federal income taxes for 18 years. Trump added to his troubles Monday when he said that veterans commit suicide because they “can’t handle” the stress of war.
Trump has defended his tax filings by saying he knows the tax code well and can use that knowledge to better fix it.
“I have legally used the tax laws to my benefit … Honestly, I have brilliantly used those laws,” Trump said Monday in Pueblo, Colorado.
Tuesday’s vice presidential debate in rural Virginia will be the biggest political moment for Pence and Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine. Their job: defending the top of the ticket from attacks while also getting in some hits of their own.
Pence previewed some of his material Monday, during a pre-debate rally in Ashland, Virginia.
“Hillary’s record on foreign affairs alone could literally take up the entire 90 minutes and it wouldn’t be pretty,” Pence told the crowd.
He also hinted at the tough balancing act of trying to play up his credentials, but not cutting into the job of defending Trump and attacking Clinton, saying “I hope we get to talk about our records as well.”
Pence has already spent much of his almost three months running with Trump explaining and smoothing over the businessman’s roughest edges and toughest self-inflicted wounds. (It’s what has led at least one Indiana Democrat to dub Pence “the chief pooper-scooper.”)
A Pence spokesman said he did not want to get into hypothetical questions about Pence defending Trump’s record, but pointed to their joint appearance together on “60 Minutes” when Trump said he did not expect Pence to use the same language as him.
Pence has withstood some tough grillings over Trump’s positions without giving any ground already.
In late August, as Trump’s advisers attempted to explain that he would stake out nuanced territory on immigration, Pence argued extensively with CNN’s Jake Tapper that Trump would not be changing his positions at all.
“Nobody was talking about illegal immigration when Donald Trump entered this campaign. He was attacked from day one for putting the whole issue of the violence that is derived from certain individuals that come into this country illegally on the table,” Pence said on CNN’s “State of the Union.
Pence has been preparing weekly for the debate since he was picked by Trump, aides say, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been playing the role of Kaine.