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CNN commentators and guest analysts offer their take on Monday night’s presidential candidate debate. The opinions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of the authors.

David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been a White House adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. Follow him @david_gergen. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

David Gergen: Pence Lifts GOP Spirits

David Gergen

Governor Mike Pence did not change the underlying dynamics of the campaign Tuesday night, but he did provide a significant service to Donald Trump: he gave fresh heart to Trump supporters and may have stopped the downward spiral of their campaign.

Democrats and many journalists argue that Pence succeeded only by throwing Trump under the bus, refusing to defend his boss from repeated attacks. But they miss the point: voters rarely scrutinize debates line-by-line, instead making their judgments on the overall tone and performance of a candidate. Pence will not fare well with fact checkers, but his poise and polish played well with voters. For better or worse, style counts a lot in these debates.

Tim Kaine had a much sharper mastery of policy but was forced to play attack dog, a role that doesn’t fit his personality. His frequent interruptions didn’t help, either – he seemed less Rottweiler than fox terrier. And by the way, who screwed up his camera angle, so that he was often looking off into space instead of talking directly to viewers? That wasn’t fair to him or the audience.

With a CNN poll showing a Pence victory, Republicans finally have reason to cheer again. Trump himself should see how much preparation paid off for his running mate. But now it is up to the candidate to show he can win at this game, too: the upcoming debate this Sunday in St. Louis is make or break for Trump.

David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been a White House adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. Follow him @david_gergen. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

Sally Kohn: Mike Pence is living on an alternate planet

Sally Kohn

Well it turns out, if you refuse to acknowledge any of the horrible things that Donald Trump has actually said, then it’s pretty easy to defend him.

This was the main takeaway from the vice presidential debate. Over and over again, Democratic VP nominee Tim Kaine tried valiantly to hold Republican Mike Pence accountable for the misogynistic, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, pro-Putin things that his running mate Donald Trump has said. And over and over again, Pence acted like Kaine was not only making these things up but, in so doing, actually perpetrating a campaign of insults simply by repeating the things that Donald Trump had said yet Mike Pence refused to acknowledge. I’m pretty impressed that Kaine’s head didn’t explode. Mine certainly came close.

I don’t know how you debate someone who seems to have encamped himself on a different planet. Yet to his credit, Mike Pence dished out his flurry of lies with calm confidence – while Tim Kaine, the truth-teller, came off as ruffled.

In a moment in American media and political history where the very existence let alone definition of “facts” seems worryingly debatable, I pray that the American people can still tell the difference. Or else I pray that not that many people were watching — and that the morning-after media will do its job of fact checking Pence for his downright lies and thus the impression most voters will walk away will be one closer to – well, fact.

Donald Trump has praised Putin. Donald Trump has said it might not be a bad thing if more countries get nuclear weapons. Donald Trump has said we should institute a temporary ban to prevent Muslims from entering the United States. And Donald Trump has said Mexico was sending immigrants who are “rapists” and called women “fat pigs” and “dogs.” No amount of vigorous head shaking on the part of his running mate changes this. Donald Trump has said he would round up and deport every single undocumented immigrant in the country using a “deportation force.”

Facts are facts. We have literal recordings and transcripts.

But if anything, the VP debate tests the relevance of facts in this election. Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s strategy seems to be to repeat lies often enough to convince 51% of voters that they’re the truth. And unfortunately, what actually is true doesn’t matter as much as what voters believe to be true. Donald Trump has already bent the electoral process, the media and the boundaries of basic civility to his whims. He may now bend the concept of fact as well. Certainly, his loyal running mate is trying.

Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. She supports Hillary Clinton for the presidency.

Errol Louis: Pence gives lesson on how to defend Trump

Errol Louis

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence went into Tuesday’s vice presidential debate burdened with saving the Trump campaign after one of its worst weeks. He emerged as the calmer, smoother counterpart to the erratic performance by Donald Trump during last week’s debate.

Pence’s skillful performance was, in part, a product of the five years he spent as a radio talk show host, a job that put a premium on maintaining a clear and conversational tone and timing.

To make his burden easier, Pence made as few references as possible to Trump, dancing around criticisms about his running mate’s tax returns, insults to a former Miss Universe and the constitutionality of his “extreme vetting” plans. Instead, he spent the bulk of the night smoothing out what he dismissed as misinterpretations of Trump’s proposals.

Even if he didn’t fully answer questions on race relations and questions on Trump’s business acumen, Pence was the cooler alternative to Sen. Tim Kaine, who came off as canned, too-clever and nervous, interrupting Pence throughout the debate.

Pence calmly dismissed assertions from Kaine with a chuckle, calling his points nonsense. That won’t eliminate all the political damage Trump has done with his nonstop insults and mockery, but it demonstrated to other Trump supporters how to defend their candidate without doubling down on his abrasive style.

Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel.

S.E. Cupp: Kaine gave tone deaf, unhinged performance

S.E. Cupp

Just wow. Tim Kaine had one (fairly simple) job tonight: make the Donald Trump ticket look like the unstable one. Instead, for reasons only the late Miss Cleo might know, he was the one who was totally out of control.

Sure, he laid out the differences between Trump and Hillary Clinton, hammered away at Trump’s rhetoric and asked numerous times how Mike Pence could defend some of Trump’s words and proposals. But who could hear any of that through the cacophony of hyperactive, ballistic outbursts and interruptions that marked most of the conversation?

At one point, Pence mentioned 9/11 and Kaine interrupted to excitedly announce, “I was there, too, by the Pentagon!” When he wasn’t interrupting, he was steamrolling through prepared paragraphs of alliterative dad jokes and scripted zingers that might have been effective – if they weren’t delivered at warp speed. And he was so wedded to his anti-Trump mandate, he often seemed oblivious. In an answer to a question about the children of Syria – let me repeat, the CHILDREN OF SYRIA – his response was to point out that Trump didn’t pay his taxes.

Whatever substantive points Kaine made about Trump’s unpreparedness – and there were many, and they were important – were totally overshadowed by Kaine’s tone deaf, overly caffeinated, unhinged performance, especially when contrasted with Pence’s calm and composed one. If undecided voters were watching, Pence by far seemed the saner choice, maybe even in spite of his running mate.

S.E. Cupp is the author of “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity,” co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right” and a columnist at the New York Daily News.

Tara Setmayer: Debate won’t move needle

Tara Setmayer

Despite finishing a bit weaker than he started, Mike Pence was able to successfully execute his strategy better than Tim Kaine. Pence was unflappable throughout, while deliberately choosing to avoid answering any direct questions about his running mate’s litany of controversial remarks and positions.

By design, Pence took every opportunity to make the question a referendum on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s failed policies regardless of the question asked. This tactic forced Tim Kaine to play defense most of the evening.

Kaine was at his best when he listed many of Trump’s controversial statements and then challenged Pence multiple times to defend them, which he didn’t for the most part. However, Kaine’s incessant interruptions were off putting and undermined his own message.

Although Pence emerged the victor overall, it won’t move the needle at all for voters. Vice presidential debates rarely do. In this case, it simply reminded many Republicans how much different this race would be if a knowledgeable Republican who could effectively articulate the issues were at the top of the ticket instead of a self-aggrandizing demagogue like Trump.

Tara Setmayer is former communications director for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, and a CNN political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @tarasetmayer.

Tim Stanley: A technical win for Trump

Timothy Stanley

That was probably the first and last debate in presidential history to include a discussion of Rosie O’Donnell’s looks. As such, it was tremendous entertainment – pure reality TV. But it was also very hard to pick a winner. Donald Trump won on the basis of spectacle. Hillary Clinton’s strategy was to rise above the occasion and let him talk himself into losing. That actually allowed Trump to land one blow after another without Clinton fighting back. She wittily put him down a couple of times. But mostly she just smiled oddly at the camera. She was, to use a Trumpism, low energy. That was a mistake.

Now, that was the kind of polite and intelligent debate we used not to watch. Yes, the VP encounter was feisty, but never personally offensive – and its substance also felt incredibly old fashioned. The separation of church and state, a subject never mentioned in Trump v Clinton, was tactfully addressed; memories of 9/11 were invoked; both candidates agreed that Russia is a strategic threat. In fact, Mike Pence’s performance was so old school Republican that he seemed unaware of the reality of Trump’s iconoclastic campaign. “Yes, I am happy to defend Mr. Trump,” he insisted, adding that Hillary Clinton was the lady with all the insults and Trump was a great and honest businessman. He was defending the Trump of his imagination.

Kaine gave a spirited performance that was, to his detriment, wholly negative. If he couldn’t say “But your candidate said XYZ!” then he wouldn’t have had much to say at all. Pence defused the antagonism with the wry smile of a genial old man humoring a simpleton – and won most rounds. He scored highly on law and order, insisting that there’s no contradiction between acknowledging that police racism exists and refusing to exploit tragedy for votes.

So effective was his performance, so pleasingly banal, that many Republicans will be calling for the ticket to be switched. They do so forgetting that Trump’s radicalism deflects but does not diminish Pence’s: He was once considered a politically incorrect conservative himself, and any other year would have been regarded as a risky choice for VP.

So this debate reinforced the impression that while the Democrat ticket is weak and unlikeable, the Republican one is eccentric. Pence, undeniably effective, won in large part by not being as bizarre as his running mate. Any momentum gained will doubtless be squandered by Trump himself.

Timothy Stanley is a historian and columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. He is the author of “Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between L.A. and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics.”

Jeff Yang: Pence edges non-event

Jeff Yang

The overwhelming feeling one was left with after the first and only televised “Second Chair Debate” was pointlessness verging on nihilism. Yes, each debater “landed hits” and “scored points.” But the debate will almost certainly have no meaningful or lasting effect on this particular election.

What we saw in Tim Kaine was a friendly, loyal, bland but upstanding (upblanding?) politician who ably filled his role as Hillary Clinton’s staunch defender, but who fell a bit short in executing the other half of his job, as the ticket’s designated attack dog. A bit too eager out of the gate, and nearly edgeless in his delivery, Kaine appeared to be more of a frantic puppy than a partisan pit bull. Still, he managed to come off as both human and humane, and certainly did no harm to the Democrats’ prospects.

Mike Pence, as others have remarked, was another story. Though he came off as articulate and informed, and far more measured and thoughtful-seeming than his shoot-from-the-lip running mate, he did Donald Trump no favors as wingman. When pressed to respond to questions about Trump’s extensive lies, utter lack of transparency and fractal conflicts of interest, Pence simply evaded and dodged until moderator Elaine Quijano was forced to move on, causing the Republican to visibly exhale in relief. What we were left with was the sense that Pence sees Trump as a stepping stone to his own ambitions; that he’s playing for 2020, not 2016.

In the end, Pence may have eked out a “victory” in this sideshow, but hardly the overwhelming one the GOP accidentally predicted when it uploaded a prewritten Pence wins debate post on its website – before the debate actually began. Yet another sign of the lack of significance assigned to this non-event, and one we perhaps should have heeded.

Jeff Yang is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal and a frequent contributor to radio shows including Public Radio International’s “The Takeaway” and WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.” He is the co-author of “I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action” and editor of the graphic novel anthologies “Secret Identities” and “Shattered.”

Nayyera Haq: Kaine, Pence and the battle for white voters

Nayyera Haq

It was supposed to be a boring match-up between two men viewed as milquetoast leaders playing second fiddle to the more media-friendly politicians at the top of the ticket.

Most of us have known Hillary Clinton’s running mate as Uncle Tim with the jokes, and Mike Pence as the tortured soul trying to add respectability to Trump’s maverick campaign. Tim Kaine broke expectations, showing us the sharp leader who helped heal his state after the Virginia Tech massacre. Poor Mike Pence was stuck toggling between playing cleanup for Trump’s missteps and staking out substantive policy positions his boss still hasn’t clearly defined.

But the biggest surprise was how this debate exposed the looming cultural choice facing white men in this election. Trump lost women and minority voters ages ago – Latinos, and African-Americans – not just with his flippant misogynistic and racist comments, but his doubling down in defense of policies that reflect those deplorable values.

Yet, Tuesday’s debate drew a sharp contrast between the two tickets, laying bare the choice facing white, middle class voters using two people who look just like them.

Kaine made the case for how white men can back a woman for President, support local police while believing racial bias exists, and hold personal religious values dear while not pushing them on the broader public. Kaine used Trump’s tax record to hammer home that Trump cannot relate to middle class economic struggles.

Pence helped Republicans feel their conservative values were still present in this election, shoring up evangelical support for Trump, but doing nothing to appeal to a broader undecided audience. In a year that has often pitted white families against minorities in politics and in social justice movements, Tim Kaine made the stronger case for a broader coalition of American values.

Nayyera Haq is a former White House Senior Director and State Department spokesperson under the Obama administration, Nayyera is a regular commentator on politics and current affairs. She supports Hillary Clinton.

Buck Sexton: Tuesday night a sign of what’s to come Sunday?

Buck Sexton

The veep debate felt much like an extension of the presidential debate before it, as the two contenders on stage focused more on top-of-ticket targets than each other. Both Mike Pence and Tim Kaine hammered at the opposing side’s would-be president. Overall, substantive policy discussions took a rear seat to the back and forth of political attacks – and personal insults – directed at Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This was a proxy battle, with each surrogate taking the biggest swings at the other team’s presidential nominee.

As for the head-to-head aspect of it, Pence won the debate against Kaine. In tone and style, he came across as more measured, poised and statesmanlike. Pence also made a much more coherent case against Hillary Clinton – both on her record and her judgment – than anything Trump pulled together in the first debate. Pence had much more difficulty defending Trump’s record, however, as he often was left shaking his head without a response when asked about a specific Trump quote.

Kaine was in full assault mode the whole time. His supporters probably enjoyed this, but stylistically he came across as rude, snippy and snide. He constantly interrupted Pence, engaged in so much crosstalk that it was difficult to know what anyone was saying, and repeated an endless string of talking points meant to undermine the Republican nominee while skipping over the moderator’s questions whenever Clinton’s weaknesses were at issue.

It’s unlikely the debate will sway many voters in any direction, but perhaps Kaine and Pence’s feisty exchange is a prelude to a much more fiery event coming up between Trump and Clinton this Sunday.

Buck Sexton is a political commentator for CNN and host of “The Buck Sexton Show” on TheBlaze. He was previously a CIA counterterrorism analyst. He has endorsed Donald Trump for the presidency.

Frida Ghitis: Pence smooth, but can’t defend Trump

Frida Ghitis

After Tuesday’s vice presidential clash, I have a suggestion for the Commission on Presidential Debates: Donald Trump should debate Mike Pence.

Governor Pence, Trump’s choice for running mate, presented some interesting policy proposals to the public. They just didn’t sound very much like those of his current boss, Donald Trump.

The most startling of all was Pence’s talk about Vladimir Putin, “the small, bullying leader of Russia,” as Pence called him.

Trump has praised Putin’s leadership qualities and warmly embraced the Russian autocrat throughout the campaign. A few weeks ago, during the Commander-in-Chief forum, Trump told Matt Lauer that Putin, “says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.” Then he went on to rave about Putin’s high approval ratings. That’s the same Putin that Pence claims his team wants to forcefully take on.

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    On Syria, Pence outlined a policy that does not resemble any of what Trump has said. Trump has spoken of attacking ISIS and leaving in place the dictator Bashar al-Assad, responsible for far more deaths than ISIS. By contrast, Pence declared that American leadership requires it protect vulnerable citizens, including the children of Aleppo. Compare that to Trump’s tone on Muslims in general.

    Pence did make an effort to defend his running mate, but it was a bizarre tactic. When his challenger, Governor Tim Kaine, quoted Trump’s own highly offensive words, Pence repeatedly shook his head as if saying no, and laughed, appearing to deny the quotes that were almost all quite accurate. Then, when his turn came to speak, he did not refute Kaine’s statements citing Trump’s own words.

    But then, at one point, he did refute them. Kaine listed a series of Trump insults that all Americans have heard; attacks against a Mexican judge, disdain for John McCain being captured in Vietnam, and others. Incredibly, Pence seemed to deny the words everyone has heard. “If Donald Trump had said all the things you said he said in the way he’s said them,” he said, it would still not compare to Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables.”

    Pence tried to paint Clinton as the one responsible for running an “insult-driven campaign.” But Americans have heard Trump. Pence’s smooth debate skills cannot erase that.

    Another Pence excuse, this one on abortion, won’t cut it. Trump told Chris Mathews that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions.” Pence excused it saying Trump is “not a polished politician.”

    Pence is a polished politician. It showed in the debate. But he failed to defend Trump’s policies.

    Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. Follow her @FridaGhitis.

    Haroon Moghul: Trump lost, but so did all of us

    Haroon Moghul

    Near the end of Monday night’s debate, Hillary Clinton looked straight into the ca