Khan family debacle highlights Pence's role as Trump's gentler half

GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence came to Donald Trump's defense Sunday and Monday. Is his new role on the campaign trail to soften Trump's comments? 

Lance Iverson/AP
Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence at a campaign event in Carson City, Nev., Aug. 1, 2016. Pence quieted a crowd who booed an Air Force mother in the audience for her comments about Donald Trump.

In the days after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s sharp exchange with the bereaved parents of a Muslim-American Army captain, his running mate has sought to soften Mr. Trump’s emotional words.

Gov. Mike Pence (R) of Indiana defended Trump’s devotion to the military, and commitment to reform the Department of Veteran Affairs, and said Capt. Humayun Khan is an “American hero,” after Trump questioned if Mr. Khan’s mother, Ghazala, was forbidden from speaking at the Democratic National Convention Thursday because of her faith.

Governor Pence’s defense of Trump could be indicative of his emerging role on the campaign trail: explaining and, at times, mitigating Trump’s incendiary comments.

It’s “obvious that our styles are different,” Pence said in a “60 Minutes” interview in July, shortly after Trump announced him as his running mate. “But I promise you, our vision is exactly the same.”

Pence’s most recent defense of Trump started Sunday, hours after Trump began an exchange with the parents of Khan, who was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004. After his father, Khizr Khan, criticized Trump in a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Trump questioned if Mr. Khan's wife wasn’t “allowed” to speak because of her Islamic faith. Ms. Khan said she remained silent because she was too grief-stricken.

Meanwhile, Pence released a statement praising Captain Khan as an "American hero." 

“His family, like all ‘Gold Star’ families, should be cherished by every American,” said Pence.

Pence condemned President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s management of crises in the Middle East. Instead, he promoted Trump’s plans to suspend immigration from countries that harbor terrorists, and to strike the self-declared Islamic State militants.

“Donald Trump will support our military and their families, and we will defeat the enemies of our freedom,” said Pence.  

Until a town-hall style event in Carson City, Nev., Monday, Pence did not elaborate beyond the statement. Yet, when the mother of an Air Force sergeant questioned Trump’s treatment of a “Gold Star” family, Pence acted as an intermediary. He quieted those booing the mother, Catherine Byrne, and highlighted Trump’s commitment to the military.

“I have never been around someone more devoted to the armed forces of this country,” Pence said of Trump, according to Politico. There is “no one more devoted to the veterans in this country.”

Later Monday, Pence again praised the Khans.

“His family, like all Gold Star families, should always be cherished by all the people of the United States,” said Pence, at a rally in Reno. 

This isn’t the first time Pence has come to Trump’s defense since he joined the campaign in July. When Trump encouraged Russia to hack the email account of his opponent, Mrs. Clinton, Pence insisted the comments were sarcastic.

That comment “was laced with sarcasm,” Pence told radio host Laura Ingraham Thursday. “This is all about changing the focus and attention.”

In his defense of Trump, Pence has repeatedly said the media is biased. With Trump's comments about Russia, Pence said the national media turned a sarcastic remark into a true encouragement. With the Khans, Pence asked why the media did not give the same attention to the victims of the Benghazi attack.

Pence's role in the Trump camp has angered some. 

"If Pence had a modicum of dignity or decency, he would tell the American people, 'I made a terrible mistake. Mr Trump is so morally bankrupt and of such shabby character that I could not possibly serve with him,' " wrote Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger for The Washington Post, Sunday. "Failing to do so, the same should be said of Pence."

Others have admired Pence more. 

Denise Martinez told Politico she had been among those booing Ms. Byrne at the event in Carson City. She admired how Pence responded. 

“I thought he handled it really, really well,” she said. “Looking back, I think I would’ve taken the high road.”

“He handled it the right way, the way I wish Trump would have,” she added.

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