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How the Clinton campaign is making #ThatMexicanThing a thing, explained

Vice Presidential Debate Between Gov. Mike Pence And Sen. Tim Kaine Photo by Andrew Gombert - Pool/Getty Images

Sen. Tim Kaine made a point during the vice presidential debate of reminding the American public of that time Donald Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers.

“He started his campaign with a speech where he called Mexicans rapists and criminals,” Kaine said, listing Trump’s most controversial campaign statements. “I cannot imagine how Gov. Pence can defend Donald Trump.”

At first, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence responded with a laugh and a shrug — a seemingly implicit defense of Trump implying Kaine’s attack was unfounded (despite the fact that Trump really has said these things). But Pence’s initial lack of response didn’t stop Kaine. He used the same line four times Tuesday night. And by the fourth time, Pence had had enough.

“Senator, you whipped out that Mexican thing again,” Pence retorted. “There are criminal aliens who have come into this country illegally, who are perpetrating violence. He also said, ‘and many of them are good people.’ Sen. Kaine, you keep leaving them out of your quote.”

“That Mexican thing” was an unusually inarticulate moment for Pence that night, and Twitter noticed.

How the #ThatMexicanThing went from a joke to a campaign line

Soon the hashtag #ThatMexicanThing was trending on Twitter.

As Univision’s Jorge Ramos pointed out, it is an even more unfortunate turn of phrase for the vice president of a candidate that has had an extremely difficult time energizing the Latino vote:

Hillary Clinton supporters used it to express “things” Mexican immigrants actually do — work hard, play by the rules, pay taxes, participate in civic life as Americans, and so on.

As Republican strategist Ana Navarro notes, Pence’s offhand remark has become a rallying cry for Mexican Americans to highlight their life experiences in the United States, in the face of Trump and Pence’s immigration-skeptical policy proposals.

The Clinton campaign also seized on it quickly: now redirects to Hillary Clinton’s campaign website, and Clinton’s campaign is doing its darnedest to make the hashtag #ThatMexicanThing the takeaway from Tuesday’s debate.

It’s an illustration of just how savvy campaigns can be in the face of a losing performance, but it is also a reflection of what Kaine was trying do all night: sink Pence down to Trump’s level.

If the Clinton campaign succeeds in elevating this debate moment, Kaine’s otherwise damaging interruptions will not have been enacted in vain. Kaine’s strategy was to make Pence defend Trump. It didn’t play out like he hoped, unless this works.

This was possibly one of the only moments for the Clinton-Kaine campaign to seize on

Kaine’s finest moments in the debate were when he listed Trump’s most reprehensible campaign moments — but a lot of them were undermined by his overeagerness to jump into the role of attack dog.

He interrupted Pence often, interjecting with Trump’s past transgressions. It gave Republicans fodder for a simple post-debate attack video, creating a supercut of all the times Kaine jumped in on Pence’s time. This allowed Republicans to create space for the argument that there’s nothing sexist about the way Trump interrupted Clinton last week at the first debate since her running mate used the same tactic.

But Pence’s inarticulate moment also highlighted the fact that he had no intention of defending Trump. One of the few times he tried to became a memeable moment, which the Clinton campaign has been quick to co-opt.

Pence’s retort didn’t age well overnight, as media outlets begin to pick up on it on Wednesday and the Clinton campaign continues to push it as Tuesday’s takeaway.

Ultimately, Pence’s remark may not matter in the grand scheme of the election, as vice presidential debates so often don’t, but it undermines a real opportunity for the Trump campaign — a potentially positive news cycle for the first time in more than a week.

Watch: This election is about normal vs. abnormal

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