- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine’s debate tasks Tuesday night are to do what’s never been done before: actually help the candidate at the top of their respective party’s ticket.

Never mind, say Trump champions, that there’s no evidence that vice presidential candidates help or hurt, let alone make or break, their heartbeat-away presidential candidates. They say it better be different this time.

Donald Trump missed key opportunities to put the contest away in the first debate, and it’s up to Pence to go after Hillary Clinton’s record,” said Mercedes Schlapp, a White House press aide to former President George W. Bush. “Trump had such a bad week — one of the worst of the campaign — that lost him some momentum and energy, and Pence has the opportunity to rebuild that momentum and restore that energy.”

Suffolk University poll director David Paleologos said Mr. Pence has to attack on three fronts. He needs to turn every debate question into a referendum on the trustworthiness of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, win back the Gary Johnson voters that Mr. Trump has lost in key states and aggressively pitch Bernard Sanders’ supporters.

“He can do this by reminding them of the divisive, complicated and rigged Democratic Primary process which created havoc in states like Nevada, when Sanders caucusgoers were gaveled down,” Mr. Paleologos said.

Quinnipiac University post-presidential debate polls in four swing states released on Monday suggest that Mrs. Clinton’s perceived debate win didn’t lead to a commensurate bump in support for her. That confirms what has always been the cautious campaign consultant’s rule: The public’s view is that debating and governance are not necessarily related skills.

“In Florida, likely voters give Hillary Clinton a 35 percentage point margin for winning the debate, but only a five-point margin in the election matchup,” poll assistant director Peter A. Brown said.

The poll in North Carolina showed likely voters awarding the debate to Mrs. Clinton by 49 percent to 24 percent. Democrats tapped her by 71 percent to 6 percent, but Republicans gave the brass ring to Mr. Trump by a far slimmer margin of 46 percent to 27 percent.

“This newest attack led by The New York Times is designed to argue that bad Trump business decisions led to nearly a billion dollars of losses [rather] than business wizardry,” Mr. Towery said. “How Pence deals with that is as important as anything else.”

Mr. Kaine enters the contest with strong headwinds — a solid performance by Mrs. Clinton in the first debate and an assist from the pro-Clinton New York Times’ story on a billion-dollar loss by Mr. Trump’s company in the mid-1990s. Mr. Kaine is expected to use the state income taxes leaked to The Times to attack the business acumen of Mr. Trump, whose central claim to the Oval Office remains that he’s a “genius” at business.

“Kaine’s focus must be three-fold also: to continue to hammer Trump on the tax issue not only for using the tax code to his advantage but for hiding the information from voters,” said Mr. Paleologos. “Kaine needs not only to vigorously defend any attacks on Clinton so voters who are on the fence can be reassured, but also to pitch the Sanders supporters based on the common denominator of a number of social issues versus Trump.”

Mr. Trump’s supporters tout his business skills as evidence that he will be far better than Mrs. Clinton at managing America’s $19 trillion economy and renegotiating international trade deals.

“While it’s too early to know how the tax-return story has shaken Trump potential voters as to his business acumen, we see in numerous polls that the temperament issue has cost him, at least for the moment, some support from white college-educated older voters,” said pollster and attorney Matt Towery.

“That is a group that he cannot afford to lose.”

The story also ramps up the pressure on Mr. Pence.

“He has to explain the sophisticated taxes of a billionaire while trying to explain why Trump’s experience qualifies him to deal with sophisticated economic issues,” Mr. Towery said.

To the delight and relief of supporters on Monday, Mr. Trump hit the campaign trail addressing head-on the perceptions his opponents are planting about bad business decisions. But the expected nationwide audience for the vice presidential debates will far exceed anything said in campaign stops.

Mr. Trump defended his past tax practices, saying the moves he made during the 1990s to keep his companies afloat during the recession reflect the business prowess and fighting spirit that he now wants to put to work on behalf of the nation as the next president of the United States.

“That did not happen by chance or luck. It happened by action and talent — a lot of talent,” Mr. Trump said at a campaign stop in Pueblo, Colorado. “I was able to use the tax laws of the country and my business acumen to dig out of the real estate mess — you would call it a depression — when few others could do what I did.”

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