October 12 2012
Who won the vice presidential debate?
Who knows? Who cares? The only take away from the night is that the men in white jackets will be coming for the veep soon. Somebody tweeted that his uncle was that way one Christmas after drinking the turpentine. Vice President Joe Biden interrupted 82 times. This was one for the books.
That said, I am afraid I agree with Michael Graham: “The jerk won:”
Paul Ryan’s answers were solid. He struggled with abortion, but that’s a tough issue for Ryan.
But the arguments and statistics were overwhelmed by Biden’s behavior. Biden could have chosen to play the cool, calm character he was toward the end of the debate for the full 90 minutes. Instead, he let his arrogance and self-importance carry the day.
The jerk — Biden’s inner jerk — won.
There were no outright disasters for Ryan. But he failed to call Biden on several porkie pies.
The most egregious was Biden's claim that the intelligence community didn't bother to let the White House know that what happened in Libya was a terrorist attack.
Conservative commentators no doubt point out that Biden "threw the intelligence community under the bus" and that his assertion was wildly at variance with what was revealed in yesterday’s congressional hearings on Libya. But it was Ryan’s job to do that last night. Ryan also let Biden to get by with feigning administration closeness to “Bibi.” This was particularly galling in light of the Obama White House’s inexcusable treatment of Israel and her prime minister. Ryan didn’t take the opening.
Charles Krauthammer said that, if you read the transcript, it was dead even. If you listened on radio, Biden won, and if you watched it on TV, Biden lost. I listened rather than watching (TV on fritz). It was instructive. I was surprised to learn that Biden smiled and mugged during the debate. From just listening, I expected him to look grim and angry. He was rude, hostile, and overwhelming if you listened. I halfway expected him to accuse Mitt Romney of giving people cancer. This demeanor doesn’t work so well on TV.
The biggest loser was civility, followed closely by moderator Martha Raddatz, who also interrupted, mostly Ryan whenever he was on the brink of making a point. She didn’t step back the way Jim Leher did in the first debate. She did, however, cede control of the evening to Biden. Even so, the irrepressible Biden turned on her. Tweet: “Wait, is Biden yelling at Martha Raddatz right now? I thought he was debating Paul Ryan.. .”
Nevertheless my guess is that the Obama campaign was sufficiently pleased with her performance that the president will be glad to attend Raddatz’s next wedding.
Biden’s pyrotechnics were like the Obama-Biden campaign—Biden succeeded in preventing Ryan from making points—from speaking, really, at many points in the evening. Still, the debate was not a disaster for Paul Ryan. If Biden was Lloyd Bentsen on steroids, Ryan got through the night without doing or saying anything dumb.
A quickie CNN poll indicates that Ryan had a better evening that it seemed to me:
Half of all debate watchers questioned in the poll said the showdown didn't make them more likely to vote for either of the candidates' bosses, 28% said the debate made them more likely to vote for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and 21% said the faceoff made them more likely to vote to re-elect President Barack Obama.
According to the survey, 55% said that the vice president did better than expected, with 51% saying that the congressman from Wisconsin performed better than expected.
By a 50%-41% margin, debate watchers say that Ryan rather than Biden better expressed himself.
Seven in ten said Biden was seen as spending more time attacking his opponent, and that may be a contributing factor in Ryan's 53%-43% advantage on being more likable. Ryan also had a slight advantage on being more in touch with the problems of average Americans.
The poll included 381 registered voters, so the margin is plus or minus five points.
The evening was not a coup for Biden, even if, like me, you think he won. Jonathan Tobin explains why:
But the main difference between the two wasn’t so much their competing liberal and conservative ideas and arguments. It was the blatant disrespect shown by Biden for his opponent. Biden giggled, smirked and mugged throughout the debate almost every time Ryan spoke. He also interrupted the Republican almost at will without moderator Martha Raddatz saying a word to call him to order. It may be that Democrats were so dismayed by President Obama’s passive performance in his debate last week that Biden was urged to be more aggressive.
But what he did wasn’t merely aggressive; he was openly rude. That may have encouraged the Democratic base, but it remains to be seen whether that is the sort of thing most Americans are comfortable with.
One CNN tweet characterized Ryan and Biden as a beleaguered altar boy and belligerent old man. It may be that America is ready for an altar boy after years of political venom. (See: "Angry Joe and Martha Versus that Nice Young Fellow from Accounting.")
One final note: I had predicted that Biden would take Nancy Pelosi’s advice and talk about the alleged “War on Women.” It didn’t happen. I am wondering why. Is this theme not testing well in focus groups?