Here’s a question you wouldn’t normally have to ask after a vice presidential candidate turned in a widely praised debate performance: Will the presidential nominee completely fly off the handle tomorrow?
But this isn’t a normal year.
CNN’s John King, reporting from a source close to Trump, that the reviews that Pence did better then he did won’t go over well with Trump— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) October 5, 2016
Trump adviser on debate after Pence passed up opportunities to defend him: "Pence won overall, but lost with Trump"— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) October 5, 2016
The broad consensus around Mike Pence’s debate performance rests on two premises:
- He did a good job, much better than Donald Trump.
- He did a good job in part by throwing Trump under the bus.
Trump might respond by patting Pence on the back. A win’s a win. Or, as John King and John Harwood’s reporting suggests, he might respond with fury. Trump doesn’t like to be upstaged. He prizes loyalty above all else. His political style is almost entirely based on asserting dominance over other men.
VP debates don’t matter much electorally because people vote for the candidate atop the ticket, not the candidate at the bottom. So what really counts after tonight’s debate is how Trump and Hillary Clinton react to it.
It’s a fair bet that Clinton will praise Tim Kaine’s performance and continue executing her campaign strategy. It’s entirely possible that Trump, who has already been acting erratically, will start sniping at his own running mate, complaining about the media, or engaging in outrageous antics to recapture the spotlight. If that happens, Pence’s strong performance will prove a net negative for the ticket.
Oh gosh don't be too hard on Mike tomorrow, Mr. Trump. pic.twitter.com/Cnqu7XknpL— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) October 5, 2016
Similarly, Pence’s strong performance may well prove to be a net negative for Pence’s relationship with Trump, and for the establishment Republicans hoping he would be a major player in a Trump administration. Trump likes loyalists and sycophants, and Pence’s strategy, while smart for his 2020 hopes, was neither particularly loyal nor particularly sycophantic. The result may be that Pence won the debate only to lose influence with Trump — and the conservatives celebrating tonight’s win might be experiencing a Pyrrhic victory.
It perhaps bears noting that the fact that these reports are even remotely plausible speaks to the immaturity of the Republican nominee, and his manifest unfitness for office.