Vice presidential nominee Mike Pence did a road paving job in his debate on Tuesday night facing Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee. Pence kept his dignity intact while Kaine interrupted the Indiana governor no less than 70-times.
Donald Trump needed that debate and Pence’s cool demeanor to offset his loose lip remarks that have plagued his campaign. But now Trump faces a debate against Hillary Clinton Sunday night that he almost surely must win. To build his momentum after the worst week of his presidential campaign, there is no alternative.
Pence helped turn the page on a dismal period for Trump that included an ineffective debate performance, a feud with a former Miss Universe, damaging tax revelations and a steady slide in opinion polls.
In typical Trump fashion after the VP debate, Trump said at a rally in Henderson, NV that Pence did “an incredible job. I’m getting a lot of credit because that’s really my first so-called choice; that’s really my first hire, as we would say in Las Vegas.”
Pence’s debate performance cannot fundamentally change the shape of the race; vice presidential debates rarely do. But for Donald Trump, the stakes could hardly be higher as he prepares to face Hillary Clinton in St. Louis on Oct. 9th.
But as Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor said, “How many times have all the pundits been interviewed saying, ‘Trump is finally finished?'” The professor who specializes in political communications added, “That must have happened 10 times. The problem now is the clock is running down. We’ll be at four weeks, three weeks, two weeks. Can he pull the rabbit out of the hat one more time?”
Therein lays the question. Trump’s advisers say he is in “prolonged, formal preparations” for the Sunday showdown. The second debate has been magnified in its importance, much like Obama’s second debate with Mitt Romney in 2012. Obama seemed ill-prepared in the first Romney encounter and lost badly. But he was able to roar back in their second clash saving his chances for a second term.
For Trump, he has engaged a champion debater in New Jersey Governor Chris Christie taking a more focused approach. But there are many from his own party who are skeptical Trump can make up the lost weeks at this stage. The onus is on Trump to take the initiative and quit dwelling on “gotcha” triggers fired by Hillary.
It’s up to him. So far, Trump has fallen short. He really needs to win decisively on Sunday.
On Wednesday, a new poll from Monmouth University showed him trailing Clinton by 2 percentage points in Ohio, which has been one of the most favorable battleground states for the GOP nominee. Another new survey, from WRAL-TV and Survey USA, showed Trump trailing in North Carolina, also by 2 points. And a national poll from Reuters/IPSOS gave Clinton a 6-point edge.
But for Trump’s chances, the polls of the race have swung wildly before. No more so than when Clinton twice led the RealClearPolitics national polling average by more than 6 points in early August. Trump shaved those leads down to virtually nothing by Labor Day.
Will there be an external event, such as an unforced error or damaging disclosures from an organization such as WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange? Will Assange publish embarrassing emails like he did in August between Democratic National Committee staffers as the party’s convention began this summer in Philadelphia?
Whether or not some scenario happens to set Hillary on her heels, Trump needs to demonstrate he is prepared to be president and force Hillary Clinton back on defense Sunday night. The debate will be in a town-hall format. Some say Trump will have the advantage feeding off his backer’s energy. Will Trump surpass expectations and shave Clinton’s lead one more time?