Longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie is lauding Indiana Gov. and Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence for giving what he believes is the most Reaganesque performance in a general election political debate since Reagan himself, and Viguerie says Donald Trump would be wise to emulate Pence’s approach in his final two debates against Hillary Clinton.
Pence squared off against Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., in the lone vice-presidential debate Tuesday night at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. After a week of the Trump campaign being swarmed with questions about tax returns and a former Miss Universe, Viguerie said Pence expertly made the case for conservative principles and against Hillary Clinton.
“It was just outstanding,” Viguerie told WND and Radio America. “I kept thinking, ‘Gosh, I wish we could have nominated Mike Pence. In fact, in 2011, I spent some time with Pence trying to talk him into running for president. I know other friends of mine did the same.”
He added, “Pence was just brilliant at laying out the position of the Democrats: taxes, spending, open borders. It was just so nicely done.”
Viguerie said conservatives saw one of their own on a national stage in a way they haven’t seen in more than a quarter century.
“He comes closer than anybody since Ronald Reagan to being Ronald Reagan,” Viguerie said.
He believes Pence was so effective because he was able to articulate conservative principles in an approachable way – much like the Gipper.
“He’s got a demeanor about him that reminds me of Ronald Reagan,” Viguerie said. “He can say something that’s very sound and conservative in principle without scaring people. He’s just got a wonderful mannerism about him. What you see is what you get. Away from the camera, he’s the same as he is on camera.”
Viguerie hopes Trump was paying attention.
“[Pence] was just having a conversation with somebody in their home. Mike Pence last night showed Trump the way to win this election, if Trump will just follow the lead of Mike Pence,” Viguerie said.
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Richard Viguerie:
One of the major criticisms of Trump’s first debate performance from the right was the number of opportunities he missed to highlight conservative principles and point out weaknesses in Clinton’s record. Viguerie said Pence was crisp and sharp all night.
“I can’t think of an opportunity he misses,” he said. “He was obviously very well-prepared, but it didn’t look canned. Tim Kaine was also prepared, but he looked scripted. It looked like he was reading off of talking points.”
Viguerie believes Trump’s greatest challenge will be emulating Pence when it comes to personal attacks against him and side-stepping his vulnerabilities in favor of articulating his agenda and exposing the weaknesses in Clinton’s plans.
“His identity is his business success. That’s who he is,” Viguerie said. “It’s like a doctor walking around the hospital with a stethoscope stuck around his neck. That’s who he is. Trump is a businessperson. He’s very proud of his success. If you attack that, it’s very difficult for him to avoid the trap that’s been set for him. But he’s got to do it if he wants to win.”
Viguerie is also considering the impact of the debate on the long-term political careers of Pence and Kaine. He said other would-be conservative leaders will be taking a back seat to Pence, regardless of how the election turns out.
“Among other losers last night were people named Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan,” he said. “If the ticket were to lose in 2016, and I don’t think they will, I think Mike Pence is going to be the favorite going forward. Win or lose, we’ll see Mike Pence accept the mantle as being the leader of the conservative movement.”
As for Kaine, Viguerie suspects this bad night will linger for a long time.
“We’re all a brand. Tim Kaine walked on that stage as a blank slate,” Viguerie said. “You only get one opportunity to make a first impression. His first impression was very weak.”
He notes that early impressions can dog a new face on the national political stage for the rest of their careers, citing former Vice President Dan Quayle as an example.
“Dan Quayle unfairly got branded as somebody that was kind of a lightweight,” Viguerie noted. “Very, very unfair, but it was his introduction to American politics – in the debate and in his announcement when (George H.W.) Bush selected him.
“You carry that the rest of your life. I’m afraid for Tim Kaine that he may be branded as what we saw last night. He’ll have a hard time creating a new brand.”