Mike Pence is, if nothing else, one of the most articulate defenders of conservatism in the United States. Tonight, he will take to the stage and be next to a man who claims a level of private conservatism. But Kaine is, publicly, a liberal. Pence is unapologetically conservative.
On the campaign trail, Pence has been shackled to Trump and overshadowed by Trump and forced to defend Trump’s follies. Tonight, though he has to defend Trump’s policies, he can also shine by repackaging and better articulating Trump’s policies.
Likewise, Pence has the opportunity to defend conservatism even from Trump.
What I am most looking forward to seeing tonight is a substantive debate between two men with patriotic sons serving our country in the Marines. I am looking forward to seeing Pence tiptoe around the Trump minefield. And I expect him to do well in defense of his beliefs, if not Trump’s.
With the polling as it is, I think deep down the Trump camp knows the race is just about over. Pence giving a good performance gives the campaign a lifeline, but Pence also has the ability to use tonight to show conservatives they should not leave him shackled to Trump in the run up to 2020.
How much of his own man Pence is tonight will help determine how much grace conservatives who oppose Trump are willing to show him. It will be fascinating to watch. This debate is the first debate of 2020.