SPECIAL REPORT

What does the VP debate mean for the 2016 race at large?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," September 14, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump called me to congratulate me on the debate.

(APPLAUSE)

PENCE: That meant the world to me. It truly did. Some people think I won.

(APPLAUSE)

PENCE: From where I sat, Donald Trump won the debate.

(APPLAUSE)

PENCE: Donald Trump's vision to make America great again won the debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: And Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, said it was the best vice presidential debate performance ever. That's what he said today.

Some new polls out today. One in Monmouth poll, Monmouth University in Ohio shows Hillary Clinton with a slight lead although within the margin of error there in Ohio. That's down from four to two, 44, 42. And then if you look at our average, same position as we have been showing you, this is an average of recent polls that FOX considers legitimate, and that is where it stands as of tonight.

Let's bring in our panel, Charles Hurt, political columnist for "The Washington Times," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and Jonah Goldberg, senior editor of "National Review." OK, Mara, the fallout from the debate, and what does it mean?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: The real question, what does it mean. Pence won the debate, I think that was pretty clear. He was smoother. He didn't take the bait. Tim Kaine came in with a clear strategy, to mention every outrageous thing Donald Trump has ever said and try to force Mike Pence to defend it, and he didn't. So Pence won the debate.

Now, what does that mean for the race itself? I think probably very little. I don't see a vice presidential debate really shifting the dynamic. But he reassured a lot of Republicans, Pence did, who were feeling bad after Donald Trump's performance in the first debate, and he teed up Trump nicely I think for the next debate. And Trump is working harder and preparing for that one.

BAIER: Charlie?

CHARLES HURT, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON TIMES": And hopefully Donald Trump will learn a few lessons from his understudy in that debate.

But I thought that Tim Kaine had his moments. He was able to get a lot of -- we did spend a lot of the debate listening to them talk about the accusations that have been leveled against Donald Trump. So in that respect, I think the people have gone a little bit overboard about how badly he did.

But the other thing that sort of struck me was the degree to which he tried to take this -- the Hillary Clinton and the administration's foreign policy failures and tried to turn it around to being somehow Donald Trump's fault for not paying his taxes in 1995. It kind of strained credulity at times. And that does a real disservice to a guy that has a bright future ahead of him in politics and has a sort of reputation for being a non-partisan truth speaker.

BAIER: So the people -- the whispers here in Washington about Mike Pence 2020 after that performance last night and that somehow he is coalescing, that's where the Republicans should be, for Donald Trump, he said this was my first hire. It shows I had good judgment.

JONAH GOLDBERG, SENIOR EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": And that's a great spin for him to do because it was a good performance. It was a broad-shouldered performance one might even say. And I agree with Mara, it was -- I may even agree with Donald Trump it was the best vice presidential debate performance in history. But that's sort of like saying the best Oktoberfest in Orlando. It's saying something, but it's not saying a lot.

BAIER: I know we can find an Oktoberfest in Orlando that's pretty good.

GOLDBERG: That's pretty good for Orlando. Vice presidential debates don't do much. And I think that the -- one of the reasons why Pence -- one of the reasons why Pence did not forthrightly take the bait and defend Donald Trump in a lot of those accusations is that there aren't a lot of good defenses for some of that that stuff and that's not a conversation he wants to have.

But also, if he is thinking about 2020, he doesn't want videotape existing four years from now where he is defending some of this stuff when the conventional wisdom or the zeitgeist has changed in an unpleasant way.

BAIER: What he did was he pivoted. And that is not what Donald Trump did that first debate. Governor Scott Walker was his debate opponent in the mock debates that Governor Pence had, Governor Walker playing the role of Senator Kaine. And he was asked about some of the answers that Pence had today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By denying that Trump said things that he said, didn't he kind of create an alternate reality version of Donald Trump?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER, (R) WISCONSIN: I think Mike's point in all of this was that the context was different than what Senator Kaine was saying. Certainly, for example, with Putin, we talked about this many times before, he doesn't admire Putin for being a leader. He was just pointing out how weak he thought President Obama's leadership was. So I think his point was not that he didn't say those exact things, but that Senator Kaine repeatedly was selectively taking things out of context.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: By the way, Senator Kaine just moments ago speaking to reporters saying last night got a little feisty. He said he has been getting dinged for interrupting, including even by his wife. And so there you have it. Is that not -- is this going to have any repercussions down the road?

LIASSON: I think the biggest repercussions is for Mike Pence's future political ambitions. He did himself a lot of good. There were some people who thought he was running for president last night and Tim Kaine was running for vice president. But, as Jonah said, didn't take the bait, didn't try to defend Donald Trump. There were even reports that Donald Trump didn't like that. But he said he was -- they denied it and he said he was happy with it. But I think Mike Pence came out of this with his ambitions intact. And it's not a small thing to be able to run as Donald Trump's running mate without getting totally tied to every controversial thing that Donald Trump has said.

HURT: I think it's interesting that -- obviously, Mike Pence did sort of deflect and change the subject on a lot of those things, and he did a pretty effective job. But he talked about how polished -- what a politician Tim Kaine is and what Hillary Clinton is. And of course the perfect political answer to a flubbed debate performance is to say, yes, people said I'm getting dinged because I interrupted too much, including from my wife. Perfect political pitch, and that's not what you're going to get from the Donald Trump campaign.

BAIER: OK, speaking of Donald Trump, speaking today about Obamacare, something the former president said the other day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bill Clinton yesterday -- they're so angry at him. They scolded him yesterday. Clinton added, it doesn't make any sense. The insurance model just doesn't work.

I think that President Obama should apologize for Obamacare.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: You have this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care and then the people are out there busting it sometimes 60 hours a week wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It's the craziest thing in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Today the former president walked that back a bit, saying he is for the Affordable Care Act but it needs to be fixed. Kellyanne Conway today, Jonah, said that they should have Bill Clinton in the spin room for them.

GOLDBERG: This was the most unforced, unprovoked gift error we have had in the cycle in a long time.

LIASSON: That's Bill Clinton's specialty.

GOLDBERG: It's amazing. Sometimes the big dog needs to be on a leash. And I think whether or not -- the Trump campaign has not effectively gone after Obamacare much in the last few months. Where I think this really could have lasting repercussions is on all of these tight Senate races. Every single Republican Senate candidate is going to be taking that sound bite and saying -- playing it over and over and over again, saying even Bill Clinton recognizes that Obamacare is crazy and a disaster. And that's going to be very useful for the RNC.

BAIER: It is a political albatross, Mara.

LIASSON: It's always been in a couple cycles now we have seen Obamacare be an albatross. It hasn't really risen to the top of voters concerns this year, mostly because Trump hasn't been talking about it. Health care hasn't been the number one thing. But it is an albatross. And Donald Trump has pretty much aligned himself with the House Republicans in terms of repealing it completely and then putting something in its place.

BAIER: Because you have state after state that is down to basically no choices, one choice for health care and premiums and deductibles going up. That's not a great equation as you are heading into the voter booth.

HURT: It's terrible. It also reveals Bill Clinton's gut political instincts are so good. And he realizes that it's a real problem. And he is the explainer in chief. But when President Obama tries to go out there and explain this stuff, people are like, what are you talking about? He gets it. Bill Clinton gets it.

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