Mike Pence had a great night. He was unflappable and in command. His win benefits the Trump campaign in a couple of ways: 1) It changes the media conversation after a terrible week for Trump in the aftermath of last Monday’s debate; 2) Perhaps it will reinforce for Trump–none too soon–the importance of preparation and discipline in a national debate.
All that said, Pence’s performance was disconnected from the top of the ticket. He laughed off or expressed disbelief whenever Tim Kaine ran through the greatest hits of outrageous Trump statements or positions. Then, when it was his turn to talk, he wouldn’t address them. He defended positions different from Trump’s on criminal justice and especially on Russia. Pence evidently decided to pretend that he is on a ticket with an utterly conventional Republican foreign policy. Pence’s sidestepping of Trump is the big asterisk on his night.
It’s the other way around for Tim Kaine. He was overly canned, much too eager, and obnoxious with his constant interruptions. But he went on the attack against Trump constantly, even when not relevant to the question at hand or when he was being annoying repetitive. This is why the Clinton campaign has to be pleased enough with his performance, even though he lost.
Regardless, it’s just the undercard for Sunday night.