Kaine challenger prompts laughter by saying Trump is ‘standing up’ to Russia

A time keeper holds a sign as Tim Kaine, left, and Republican challenger Corey Stewart, right, debate in Hot Springs, Virginia.

The first US Senate debate in Virginia went mostly according to script on Saturday, with few of the fireworks some thought likely from a meeting between a Trumpist challenger and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 vice-presidential pick.

The challenger, Corey Stewart, a far-right elected official in northern Virginia, repeatedly praised Donald Trump and attacked his opponent as “weak” and “an ultra-liberal”, automatically opposed to every action of the Trump administration.

Tim Kaine repeatedly called Stewart “a 100% Donald Trump first guy” while describing himself as a “Virginia first guy”.

At the end of a week which began with Trump’s controversial meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and continued with the president’s hectic attempts to clarify his position on Russia, there were strident disagreements about the Mueller investigation and US relations with Moscow.

Stewart referred to the special counsel’s work as “a witch-hunt” and described Russian interference in the 2016 election as “alleged meddling”. He drew laughter from the audience when he proclaimed: “We have a president who is standing up to the Russians.”

Stewart also struck a deeply Trumpist note by bashing European countries, who he said were “supposedly our allies and they need to start acting like it”.

Kaine defended Mueller and said the president was “caving to Russians”….

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