But the Pence-vs.-Trump comparison was unanimous: Each and every one of the four dozen GOP insiders who responded to a post-debate survey Tuesday night said Pence delivered a better debate performance than the New York businessman at the top of the Republican ticket, after what was widely seen as a flop last week in the first presidential debate.
“Not even close,” said an Ohio Republican — who, like all insiders, completed the survey anonymously. “Is there anyone outside of the Trump family who isn’t wishing we could flip the ticket? Mike Pence projects calm reassurance and strength and an ability to articulate a vision and policies Americans support. For the first time in months we heard a serious case for conservative principles.”
“Pence was the anti-Trump,” a Nevada Republican added. “He was prepared, smart, composed and he showed respectful competence and leadership.”
A Virginia Republican called the question “a no-brainer.” Another Virginia Republican said Trump “was a disaster.” A New Hampshire Republican suggested Pence “pinch hit” for Trump in the final two debates with Hillary Clinton.
“If the Republican ticket were flipped,” a Colorado Republican added, “it would be game over.”
As for Tuesday night’s debate, the vast majority of Republicans gave Pence the victory over Kaine. Most GOP insiders described Pence, the first-term Indiana governor, as better-prepared and more composed than Kaine, who was seen as frequently interrupting Pence.
“Pence was calm, reasoned, on message and polite,” a Michigan Republican said. “Kaine was arrogant, rude and defensive.”
“Mike Pence was unflappable, staying relentlessly on mission to critique Hillary Clinton, in spite of Tim Kaine’s constant and rude interruptions,” a New Hampshire Republican added.
Some GOP insiders said Pence made the most of a poor hand: put on the defensive by Kaine and moderator Elaine Quijano when confronted with Trump’s positions and statements.
“Mike Pence won the debate tonight; however, Tim Kaine won the post-debate narrative,” a Colorado Republican said. “Pence was smooth and calm, but he didn’t defend Trump on several issues, and didn’t back up his statements the way he needed to. Kaine might have come across as a jerk tonight, but his zingers will be quoted in every paper, and that’s what matters.”
“Kaine was rude and disrespectful in the debate, but he did a better job of attacking Trump then Pence did in attacking Clinton,” added a Wisconsin Republican. “And while he may have ‘won’ the debate, he didn’t do anything to bring on undecided voters. Kaine fortified the base.”
The majority of Democrats, 79 percent, said Kaine was the winner after doggedly seeking to yoke Pence to his running mate.
“Kaine was aggressive and on message,” said a Democrat in Kaine’s home state of Virginia. “Kept on Pence relentlessly on key issues. Pence was smooth but utterly devoid of content.”
“Kaine did a better job of making Trump look bad than making himself look good, and that’s just fine,” added a Florida Democrat.
But some Democrats conceded that Pence acquitted himself well.
“Mike Pence was definitely more polished, even if seemingly he has never read anything Trump has ever said,” a Florida Democrat said.
“Pence did a better job of deflecting attacks and articulating his side’s positions,” a North Carolina Democrat said. “Donald Trump should just let Pence do the rest of the debates.”
While insiders judged the debate’s winners and losers, there was considerable uncertainty about how much the running-mate showdown will matter. Past vice-presidential debates haven’t moved the needle, even when one candidate outperformed the other.
GOP insiders were split: 54 percent said Pence’s performance would help the Republican ticket, but 46 percent said it wouldn’t have an impact on Trump’s chances. Among Democrats, a 59-percent majority said the debate wouldn’t matter, while 37 percent predicted it would help Clinton and 4 percent said it would help Trump.
“The impact may be minimal,” a Nevada Republican said, “but voters struggling to vote for Trump because of his temperament now have some hope for mature leadership in the administration. Historically speaking, no one votes for a vice president. But historically speaking, we have never had two presidential nominees that 60 percent of Americans don’t like or trust.”
“I am a big Trump skeptic,” an Ohio Republican. “Watching Mike Pence tonight will make me drag my feet a little less on Election Day.”
But many insiders predicted it would soon be overtaken by other news events.
“It’s a VP debate prior to a major hurricane [potentially making landfall],” a Virginia Republican said. “Here today, gone tomorrow.”
And one Iowa Republican was already looking past this election, assuming a Trump defeat.
The debate “elevated Pence to the top of the 2020 GOP nomination” race, the Iowa Republican said.
These are the members of The POLITICO Caucus, not all of whom participated in this special survey:
Colorado: Ryan Call, Laura Carno, Matt Chandler, Will Coyne, Adam Eichberg, Mark Ferrandino, Cole Finegan, Michael Fortney, Andrew Freedman, Ted Harvey, Craig Hughes, Owen Loftus, Pete Maysmith, Frank McNulty, Karen Middleton, Christopher Murray, BJ Nikkel, Josh Penry, Rick Ridder, Alan Salazar, Janice Sinden, Pat Steadman, Pat Waak, Steve Welchert, Taylor West, Roxane White, Rob Witwer
Florida: Fernand Amandi, Scott Arceneaux, JP Austin, Tim Baker, Dennis K. Baxley, Slater Bayliss, Dave Beattie, Wayne Bertsch, Ron Book, Pamela Burch Fort, Jose Calderon, Kevin Cate, Kelly Cohen, Gus Corbella, Brian Crowley, Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, Justin Day, Judith Diaz, Nelson Diaz, John Dowless, Ryan Duffy, Jessica Ehrlich, Joe Falk, Alia Faraj-Johnson, Mark Ferrulo, Damien Filer, Marty Fiorentino, Rich Heffley, Nick Iarossi, David Johnson, Eric Johnson, Marian Johnson, Eric Jotkoff, Chris Korge, Jackie Lee, Susan MacManus, Beth Matuga, Fred Menachem, Jon Mills, Joe Mobley, Ben Pollara, Andrea Reilly, Steve Schale, April Schiff, Max Steele, Roger Stone, Richard Swann, Kevin Sweeny, Christian Ulvert, Steve Vancore, Ashley Walker, Andrew Weinstein, Andrew Wiggins, Ryan Wiggins, Rick Wilson
Iowa: Tim Albrecht, Brad Anderson, Rob Barron, Jeff Boeyink, Bonnie Campbell, Dave Caris, Sam Clovis, Jerry Crawford, Sara Craig, John Davis, Steve Deace, John Deeth, Derek Eadon, Ed Failor Jr., Karen Fesler, David Fischer, Ben Foecke, Doug Gross, Steve Grubbs, Tim Hagle, Bob Haus, Joe Henry, Drew Ivers, Jill June, Lori Jungling, Jeff Kaufmann, Brian Kennedy, Jake Ketzner, David Kochel, Chris Larimer, Chuck Larson, Jill Latham, Jeff Link, Dave Loebsack, Mark Lucas, Liz Mathis, Jan Michelson, Chad Olsen, David Oman, Matt Paul, Marlys Popma, Troy Price, Christopher Rants, Kim Reem, Craig Robinson, Sam Roecker, David Roederer, Nick Ryan, Tamara Scott, Joni Scotter, Karen Slifka, John Smith, AJ Spiker, Norm Sterzenbach, John Stineman, Matt Strawn, Charlie Szold, Phil Valenziano, Jessica Vanden Berg, Nate Willems, Eric Woolson, Grant Young
Michigan: Jill Alper, Saul Anuzis, Andrea Bitely, Lori Carpentier, Howard Edelson, Jordan Gehrke, Steve Hood, Darwin Jiles Jr., Joe Lehman, Dennis Lennox, Katie Packer, Ronna Romney McDaniel, John Truscott, Stephanie White, John Yob
Nevada: Mac Abrams, Greg Bailor, Barbara Buckley, Yvanna Cancela, Bob Cavazos, Linda Cavazos, Jim DeGraffenreid, Andrew Diss, Peter Ernaut, Ryan Erwin, Chip Evans, Jay Gerstema, Oscar Goodman, Ryan Hamilton, Dan Hart, Pat Hickey, Zach Hudson, Jeremy Hughes, Megan Jones, Lindsey Jydstrup, Adam Khan, Peter Koltak, Roberta Lange, Sam Liberman, Laura Martin, Michael McDonald, Chuck Muth, Erven Nelson, Kristen Orthman, Neal Patel, Nick Phillips, Jon Ralston, Andres Ramires, Emmy Ruiz, Scott Scheid, Mike Slanker, James Smack, Paul Smith, Jack St. Martin, Mari St. Martin, Daniel Stewart, Brendan Summers, Riley Sutton, Robert Uithoven, Michelle White, Ed Williams, Heidi Wixom
New Hampshire: Charlie Arlinghaus, Arnie Arnesen, Patrick Arnold, Rich Ashooh, Dean Barker, Juliana Bergeron, D.J. Bettencourt, Michael Biundo, Ray Buckley, Peter Burling, Jamie Burnett, Debby Butler, Dave Carney, Jackie Cilley, Catherine Corkery, Corriveau, Fergus Cullen, Lou D’Allesandro, James Demers, Mike Dennehy, Sean Downey, Steve Duprey, JoAnn Fenton, Jennifer Frizzell, Martha Fuller Clark, Amanda Grady Sexton, Jack Heath, Gary Hirshberg, Jennifer Horn, Peter Kavanaugh, Joe Keefe, Rich Killion, Harrell Kirstein, Sylvia Larsen, Joel Maiola, Kate Malloy Corriveau, Maureen Manning, Steve Marchand, Tory Mazzola, Jim Merrill, Jayne Millerick, Claira Monier, Greg Moore, Matt Mowers, Terie Norelli, Chris Pappas, Liz Purdy, Tom Rath, Colin Reed, Jim Rubens, Andy Sanborn, Dante Scala, William Shaheen, Stefany Shaheen, Carol Shea-Porter, Terry Shumaker, Andy Smith, Craig Stevens, Kathy Sullivan, Chris Sununu, James Sununu, Jay Surdukowski, Donna Sytek, Kari Thurman, Colin Van Ostern, Deb Vanderbeek, Mike Vlacich, Ryan Williams
North Carolina: Don Davis, Francis X. De Luca, Anita Earls, Jonathan Felts, Tami L. Fitzgerald, Dylan Frick, Taylor Griffin, Robin Hayes, Morgan Jackson, Patsy Keever, Theresa Kostrzewa, Michael Luethy, Ray Martin, Thomas Mills, Melissa L. Reed, Chris Sgro, Paul Shumaker, Dee Stewart, Brad Thompson, Bruce Thompson, Charlie Wallin, Doug Wilson
Ohio: Jerry Austin, Greg Beswick, Matt Borges, Erica Bruton, Tim Burke, Janet Carson, Jai Chabria, Martha Clark, Bob Clegg, Damareo Cooper, Jo Ann Davidson, Michael Dawson, Bill DeMora, Cindy Demse, Kathy Dicristofaro, Katie Eagan, Michael Gonidakis, Wes Goodman, Joe Hallett, Ian James, Melissa Klide Hedden, David Leland, Nick Martin, Rhine McLin, David Pepper, Molly Shack, Mark R. Weaver
Pennsylvania: Chris Borick, Larry Ceisler, Valentino DiGiorgio, Jason Ercole, Dan Fee, Charlie Gerow, Marcel Groen, Leslie Gromis Baker, Mark Harris, Nan McLaughlin, Aubrey Montgomery, Christopher Nicholas, Nachama Soloveichik, David Sosar, Todd Stephens, Doc Sweitzer, David Thornburgh, Ray Zaborney
Virginia: Ray Allen, Sandra Brandt, Marc K. Broklawski, Patsy Brown, Janet Carver, John Cosgrove, Brian Coy, Doris Crouse-Mays, Tom Davis, Julie Dime, Abbi Easter, Mike Farris, John Findlay, Joe Fitzgerald, Sean Harrison, Margo Horner, Robert Hurt, Gaylene Kanoyton, Chris LaCivita, Sue Langley, Frank Leone, Robert G. Marshall, Tucker Martin, Ed Matricardi, Susan J. Rowland, Peter Snyder, Susan Swecker, Jo Thoburn
Wisconsin: Meg Andrietsch, Mary Arnold, Kevin Barthel, Mike Basford, Rebecca Bonesteel, Barry Burden, Terri Burl, Jim Camery, Patrick Guarasci, Robert Hansen, Gary Hawley, Marian Krumberger, Emily Nehring, Jason Rae, Brandon Scholz, John Zapfel