FARMVILLE, Va. (CN) — In between policy and platform, Sen. Tim Kaine missed few opportunities at Tuesday night's vice presidential debate to mention the varied scandals, incomplete positions and ugly rhetoric from the Republican ticket over the last year.
"How can you defend him?" the Democrat asked on six separate occasions in the 90-minute debate, regarding Donald Trump.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence dodged the question for an hour before finally snapping back at the Virginia senator.
"Don't put words in my mouth," Pence said. "I'm happy to defend him."
And defend him he did, mostly by taking liberty with the facts of Trump's campaign.
At one point, for example, Kaine slammed Trump over his "shadowy connections to Russian oligarchs," then cornered Pence with a reminder of the governor's onetime pronouncement that Vladimir Putin is an "inarguably good leader."
Pence denied the statement had been made, but the governor said exactly that on CNN only a few months ago. Indeed, Pence had taken it a step further by asserting that Putin was a stronger leader than President Barack Obama.
When pressed about Trump's position on abortion, Pence vehemently contradicted Trump's well-known stance on the subject. During the primaries, Trump told news pundit Chris Mathews that he believed "yes, there should be some form of punishment" for women who terminate pregnancies.
Amid his calls of equal pay for women, Kaine also defended the Supreme Court's landmark case on abortion rights, Roe v. Wade. A onetime Catholic missionary, Kaine pressured Pence to explain why the government should have any say at all in a woman's reproductive choices.
Wriggling further as Kaine reminded voters of one well-known Trumpism after another, Pence tried to downplay the top of the Republican ticket's now-infamous generalizations about Latinos and Mexicans as "rapists" who "bring drugs and crime" to the United States.
"Oh that's ridiculous, you're leaving out a whole part of that quote," Pence said with visible frustration as his brow furrowed.
"He also said there were some good ones," Pence added.
CBS News moderator Elaine Quijano shifted the debate at Longwood University to the scourge of gun-violence deaths plaguing the nation.
Focusing on tensions between black communities and law enforcement,
Kaine spoke about the effectiveness of community-policing techniques.
Pence initially echoed the sentiment, saying they had been "great for the Hoosier state," but quickly pivoted against Kaine.
"We ought to stop seizing on these moments of tragedy," Pence said. "We're out to assure that we'll have a full and complete, transparent investigation whenever there's a loss of life because of police action. But, Senator, please, you know, enough of this seeking every opportunity to demean law enforcement broadly by making the accusation of implicit bias every time tragedy occurs."
At that, Kaine addressed moderator Quijano directly.
"Elaine, people shouldn't be afraid to bring up issues of bias in law enforcement," the senator said. "And if you're afraid to have the discussion, you'll never solve it." "I'm not afraid to bring that up," Pence interrupted.
Much in the way Trump interrupted Clinton during their first debate with repeated calls of "wrong" or "not true," uttered from behind his podium, Pence was often quick to let Kaine know when he and his base felt affronted by "Hilary Clinton's insult-driven campaign."
"Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks," Kaine retorted.
The senator also likened the Republican presidential nominee's empire to an octopus, saying that "it is an organization with tentacles all over the world."
Later, Kaine said he would find it very hard to trust Trump's intentions with world leaders behind closed doors, if elected president.
When discussion over Trump's recent tax scandal came up, Pence returned fire while dripping with sarcasm.
"I know you and Hillary are career public servants, and that's great, but Donald Trump is a businessman and not a politician," Pence said. "He built a business. Those tax returns show he faced pretty tough times 20 years ago, but he used what is called a net-operating loss. We have a tax code that is actually designed to encourage entrepreneurship. He used the tax code just the way it should be used."
In an unbridled moment of snark, Pence asked Kaine, "Do you not take deductions? How does that even work?"
As he worked to deflect attention from Trump's taxes, the governor brought up what he called "Clinton's lack of trustworthiness."
"We have weakened America's place in the world and the campaign of Hillary Clinton has been an avalanche of insults," Pence said. "People question her trustworthiness because they're paying attention."
Several million Americans will likely continue to pay close attention to Clinton as the second presidential debate with Trump is scheduled for this Sunday in St. Louis.
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