Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump and his VP Mike Pence.Flickr / Gage Skidmore.

The clash of the two Irish American Vice President wannabes in last night’s debate lived up to its billing. It was a major policy debate, which probably delighted the policy wonks but hardly stirred the soul, with both men appearing completely competent. Compared to the fireworks of the first presidential debate it was small beer.

But Republicans must have a severe case of buyer’s remorse watching Mike Pence’s impressive performance on the Vice Presidential debate. Pence won the debate according to the polls by 48 percent to Democratic candidate Tim Kaine's 42 percent.

There is no question, given the state of the parties and the unpopularity of the top of the ticket on both sides, that Pence would have been a far more formidable and well-briefed candidate than Donald Trump.

Democratic Vice President candidate Tim Kaine and Republican candidate Mike Pence.

Democratic Vice President candidate Tim Kaine and Republican candidate Mike Pence.

Pence certainly set himself up as the frontrunner for 2020 if the Trump ticket fails. Indeed, it seems at times that Pence himself was auditioning for 2020 by making clear his own positions on foreign policy, which seemed to be different to what Trump has been saying. His views on taking on Russia aggressively, in particular, stuck out like a sore thumb.

If he had been chosen as the presidential candidate, Pence could have united the Republican establishment and grassroots together and we would not have the big foreign policy guns of the GOP siding with Hillary after despairing of Trump.

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There is no question that it was an outsider's year in 2016. It was the Republicans, as the party out of power who had the advantage, facing a woman  who, contrary to expectations proved very vulnerable.

Instead, the Republicans picked a candidate so far out of the mainstream with more problems than a fly in a spider’s web. Donald Trump may well have lost the White House with his bombastic performance in the first debate. No matter how much Republicans spin it they must know that Mike Pence would have fared far better in such a debate.

The two Irish American Vice Presidential candidates, both born Catholic though Pence later became an evangelical Christian, often seemed more alike than separate with the questions on religious background and impact revealing both as men of faith, likable, and not bombastic in their you know who.

The Vice Presidential debate was a reversion to normal politics – two experienced pros going at it, sharply divided on issues but showing that they had complete command of their points.

Tim Kaine was perfectly good, did his job by attempting to drive nails into Trump’s coffin as often as he could, especially on his tax issues, his lack of knowledge of key military issues, and his attitude towards women.

There was one place where both Irish Americans disagreed completely and that was immigration. Pence took a very hard line, essentially talking about deporting 11 million people as the top priority. As the grandson of Irish immigrants, from Sligo and Clare, we could have hoped for better. Kaine, on the other hand, spoke of his Irish roots and noted they too had at one time been treated as badly in America as Syrian refugees would be today.

Overall the needle will not move in the 2016 election, but for 2020, if he is not Vice President, Mike Pence will start as frontrunner for the GOP after this performance. As for Tim Kaine, he got the job done for Hillary Clinton.

Here are the highlights from the Vice President’s debate: