I'm reading a bunch of commentary today about how Mike Pence won the vice-presidential debate, how he remained steady and calm while Tim Kaine repeatedly attacked him, how he is setting himself up for a run at the top of the ticket in 2020, etc.
Here's the thing about Mike Pence: he is dumb as rocks. Like, literally stupid, with not the faintest clue about or slightest bit of interest in any of the issues or policies that are being discussed.
He is, however, a tremendously reliable reciter of right-wing talking points. Maybe it's his background in conservative talk-radio, but there are few politicians as good as Pence at repeatedly, robotically spewing obviously wrong statements over and over in the face of even the strongest objection and pushback. YouTube is littered with clips of Pence driving hosts like Chris Matthews and other political commentators to the brink of madness with this tactic.
So, yes—he held his own against Kaine last night. That's his schtick.
At the same time, a debate is not an isolated event, and the Clinton campaign is not stupid. Pence's talents being few, they are also predictable, and I imagine Kaine went into the debate with orders to get Pence on record blatantly lying about basically everything so that they can run ads like the one they released this morning, get another week's worth of press out of the contradictions, and sow further discord in the Trump camp.