The televised contest between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence was quickly forgotten as the presidential nominees aimed fire at each other on the campaign trail.
The vice-presidential debate left few traces on Wednesday as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton returned to center stage.
The televised contest between Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and Indiana Governor Mike Pence was quickly forgotten on Wednesday as Trump and Clinton aimed fire on each other. Tuesday night’s debate, which had the lowest ratings of any such matchup since Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman’s encounter in 2000, focused entirely on the top of the ticket, and that continued as memories quickly faded of Pence and Kaine’s face-off in Farmville, Virginia.
In front of an energetic crowd at the Reno-Sparks convention center in Reno, Nevada, Trump on Wednesday sang a symphony composed largely of old favorites from his songbook: Nafta took up a large part of his speech, with the debates – either his last week or his running mate’s on Tuesday – barely mentioned.
Pence, who was widely considered to have bested Kaine in the debate, merited only the barest of nods. “The problems we face as a country are immense – and, by the way, didn’t Mike Pence do a great job?” The line did not get much of a cheer, and he did not mention his running mate again.
If Trump has suffered in national polling since his debate with Clinton last week, his supporters did not seem to mind. The atmosphere in Reno was almost festive, with the crowd engaging in Trump’s call-and-responses with gusto. “What’s my economic – my economic,” Trump said, pretending to forget, and the crowd shouted back: “Jobs! Jobs!”
Only when Trump asked if there were any Latinos in the room was the Republican candidate met with near-silence. Even the booing of the media – a ritual at Trump rallies – seemed milder and more good-natured than usual.
This good humor was shared by those attending the rally, which was filled to capacity with ardent supporters wearing red campaign hats and T-shirts displaying their loyalty to the Republican nominee or their belief that his Democratic rival should be imprisoned.
Julie Rice, a medical office manager and die-hard Trump supporter from Abilene, Texas, said that his refusal to release his tax returns – or the $916m losses reported on his 1995 income tax returns, which was leaked to the New York Times – did not affect her view.
When asked about Trump’s treatment of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, Rice said, “Doesn’t bother me at all.” But, she added, she was “really upset” with Clinton over the email scandal.
Regina Polisso, who drove with her husband, Charles, from Auburn, California, for the event, said that the Machado story was “just another last-straw grab to find something on him, but it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference”. He added that the story was “just to make women hate him”.
Asked if there was anything Trump could say to lose their votes, both Polissos shook their heads. “I don’t know of anything, really. Nothing. I like his message; I trust him,” Charles said after some thought.
Charles Bland, a construction worker from Reno who brought his grandson to the event, said: “I could never vote for Hillary.”
For Bland, the things that appeal about Trump wouldn’t be affected by any debate performance. Trump is “not the status quo; and we need somebody to come and shake things up”, Bland said. He, too, was not bothered by the Machado story. “No, because I truly believe he has the country at heart,” Bland said. “He says things that all Americans feel. They’re tired of everything being politically correct.”
Clinton spent much of the day engaging in debate prep, taking a brief break for a fundraiser Wednesday night featuring celebrities such as British R&B singer Estelle and actor Julianna Margulies.
Although Clinton praised her running mate’s performance, she quickly changed the subject to Trump. “I though Tim did a great job” the Democratic nominee said. “And every time he tried to push Mike Pence to defend what Donald Trump has said and done, Pence just bobbed and weaved and tried to get out of the way because after all, trying to defend Donald Trump is an impossible task.”
Both vice-presidential candidates also returned to the campaign trail. At a stop in Virginia, Pence renewed a criticism from Tuesday’s debate, attacking Clinton for running an “insult-driven campaign” while Kaine crowed about his performance in a Philadelphia union hall. “At some points, I felt like both [Pence] and I were debating Donald Trump,” the senator said. “I can’t imagine that made the Donald too happy.”
Trump and Clinton are scheduled to face off on Sunday night in the second of three presidential debates. The two will return to the debate stage at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, in a showdown jointly moderated by Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC.