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Garcia: Mike Pence, Tim Kaine each did their jobs during debate

Republican vice-presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine walk off the stage after the vice-presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Mike Pence is a cool cat.

Not cool as in trendy or “dope,” as the kids say, but cool as a cucumber and always ready with a wry “awe, shucks” smile and easy shake of the head.

It’s a talent that comes in handy when you’re the sidekick on a presidential ticket where the main guy is raving lunatic.

Alright, to be fair, that’s too sweeping of a generalization.

To be specific, Donald J. Trump is a bigoted, misogynistic, narcissist and quite possibly the least-qualified candidate for the presidency of the United States in modern history.

But back to Pence. Did he win Tuesday’s vice presidential debate with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate? If you buy the instant polls, maybe he did.

For their part, the Trump camp was so sure Pence would do gangbusters they actually released a statement (inadvertently) declaring Pence won about an hour before the debate began. (Didn’t these folks learn anything from Dewey?)

After the debate, CNN reported, based on an interview with an anonymous Trump staffer, that the boss (aka the Great Orange One) wasn’t happy that Pence didn’t go out of his way to defend Trump’s penchant for saying bigoted, misogynistic, narcissistic, etc., things.

So, at least in Trump’s mind (a scary place to be indeed), Pence did not live up to expectations. Credit, Mr. Pence, for that dubious achievement.

My take on the night’s affair? No harm done to either camp. No gain made for either camp. Both men, for the most part, behaved like grownups. At worst, they sounded a little like bickering spouses who clearly should avoid spending more time together.

For his part, Kaine basically did his job. He defended Clinton vigorously — almost rabidly, at times — even when it came to the lingering (and largely bogus) email scandal. He reminded America of the seemingly endless list of people and entire groups of people that Trump has insulted, which, to date, has included everyone from Pope Francis to former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. (The man has range, if nothing else.)

As for Pence, despite Trump’s apparent frustration, he, too, did the job he came to do. Namely, as a darling of the ultra-right who is not a lunatic, Pence tried his best to sound like he was defending Trump, while giving himself just enough breathing room (in the event he decides to run for president himself one day) to plausibly deny that he defended Trump. Or at least he can say, “Yeah, I said those things, but my heart wasn’t really into it.”

Unlike Trump, I don’t think Pence is good with sarcasm.

Ultimately, the trouble with Pence’s self-serving performance is that whether his endorsement of Trump is vigorous or anemic, simply by serving as his running mate Pence wants America to believe that Trump is qualified to be president.

But to knowingly endorse that disastrous possibility is at best an irresponsible and complicitous act, and at the very least clear evidence that if Pence does run for president one day that he, too, does not deserve our vote.

James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. Email him at

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