HENDERSON, NV — Donald Trump on Wednesday hyped his running mate's debate performance as the "most decisive victory in the history of vice presidential debates" -- and said some credit for that lies with Trump himself.
"I'm getting a lot of credit because that's really my first so-called choice," Trump said of Gov. Mike Pence, who debated vice presidential rival Tim Kaine Tuesday night in Virginia. "That was my first hire, as we would say in Las Vegas. And I'll tell you: he's a good one."
The Republican nominee called Pence's performance "incredible" and assessed Pence as "phenomenal," "cool," and "smart." He also saw it as an opportunity for Americans to "look first hand at my judgement" in people.
The praise of Pence's success comes as CNBC's John Harwood reported some in Trump's orbit anticipated an unhappy Trump after being upstaged by his Number 2. "Pence won overall, but lost with Trump," CNBC reported, quoting a senior Trump advisor late Tuesday night.
But Pence advisor Nick Ayers told NBC News after the debate Trump was "thrilled with Mike's debate performance tonight." According to Ayers, the debate performance from the Indiana Governor "will only further energize" Trump and the campaign.
Before Trump's rally, the GOP nominee spoke at a Las Vegas private school about what he framed as Pence's style and substance victory. "I mean he won, but he won on the issues, he won on, somebody said he won on style, the style doesn't matter — the issues, the policy matters. And he's getting tremendous reviews from me and everybody."
One notable moment of departure between the men at the top of the GOP ticket was further exacerbated here on Wednesday. While Pence's rhetoric was harsh on Russia and President Putin, calling him a "small and bullying leader," Trump has been receptive to, and largely uncritical of, the Russian leader.
Pushing back on attacks that "Trump loves Putin," Trump told the Henderson crowd gathered in an open-air amphitheater just off the Vegas strip it's not love - but it's not hate either. "I don't love, I don't hate, we'll see how it works," Trump mused. "Maybe we'll have a good relationship, maybe we'll have a horrible relationship, maybe we'll have a relationship right in the middle." Whatever the outcome, Trump still saw upside in the US joining forces with Russia to knock out ISIS.
In the past, Trump has praised Putin as a stronger leader than President Obama -- a statement that Gov. Pence reiterated at the time as "inarguable."