Who Won the VP Debate: Biden Showed Passion, Reenergized the Obama Campaign
President Obama is in urgent need of a political mood changer, and his Vice President Joe Biden is just the man to deliver it.
Thanks to Obama’s spiritless debate performance last Thursday, Biden now faces undue pressure to hold Paul Ryan’s feet to the proverbial fire when they face off at Centre College in Kentucky on October 11. But where Obama appeared lethargic, dry, even disinterested in his first tête-à-tête with Mitt Romney, one has the sense (the hope, really) that Joe Biden will be in his element come Thursday.
Too often and unfairly portrayed as the White House court jester for his blunt talk and occasional indelicate jokes, Biden is a seasoned, and adroit, debater (we forget how he outshined Obama when they were both presidential candidates five years ago). More importantly, it is that blunt talk that has continually endeared the vice president to middle class and blue-collar voters.
Ryan has none of Biden’s wealth of experience, nor seemingly his public ease. But Biden should not underestimate the so-called “wonk from Wisconsin.” As Obama himself witnessed last week, this Republican duo has a tendency to gloss over facts and has failed to articulate any specific vision for the country at all. For Ryan, this is a pivotal opportunity not only to sell the Romney/Ryan ticket, but also the Ryan brand itself. If Ryan is truly the face (and philosophical voice) of the future GOP, he arguably has as much riding on this performance as the vice president.
Biden doesn’t need to hit a grand slam on Thursday, though he can, and should, count on being hard on policy with Ryan, unlike his 2008 debate with Sarah Palin. The best thing Biden can do is just be himself. The perfect foil to Obama, Biden is aggressive, jocular, and plain-spoken. If that is the Joe Biden that shows up on Thursday, Obama might just be granted a reprieve for his woeful performance last week. More importantly, Obama supporters might just get the political mood changer they desperately want, and need.
The debate is scheduled to take place in the small town of Danville, Kentucky on October 11, Thursday evening.
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UPDATE 10:25 PM The GOP will find any number of alleged holes in Biden's arguments. But Biden did exactly what he was supposed to do tonight, and more. He re-energized the base, yes, and did so with authority, precision, facts, and with the usual, Joe Biden pinache. But even more, he did what so many of us have yearned for from Obama: passion. He got mad. What Obama has seemingly never accepted is that the GOP will do anything to get rid of him... Biden was the voice of the administration tonight. He defended it, was proud of it, and was eager to tell the American people about it. It was a zeal Obama often lacks; he has for four years seemed unwilling to tell the American people just what his administration has accomplished (and it has been a lot). But one thing is abundantly clear: tonight, Obama is lucky Joe Biden is around to that job for him.
UPDATE 10:22 PM Biden says Raddatz's solider should not be thrown into the 47%. Then questions whether Romney/Ryan has the will/interest to take care of the middle class and the vulnerable in society. He's softened a bit, but it absolutely works for this question.
UPDATE 10:19 PM Wish Biden had given a bit of a stronger response with regard to religion... seemed a bit muddled. Could have been much tougher, without being a bully.
UPDATE 10:15 PM Biden is the unequivocal winner of this debate, but frankly, Martha Raddatz is an awfully close second. She has been absolutely brilliant. Measured, tough, organized. I nominate her to moderate the next two debates...
UPDATE 10:12 PM Biden is right, Ryan never paints Romney/Ryan differently than Obama/Biden. When it comes to natsec, this ticket just continues to struggle to articulate a different vision for America.
UPDATE 10:09 PM This is has been a particularly effective defense of the administration's Syrian policy. Probably Biden's best response of the night. Ryan retorts (incorrectly): "NO ONE is advocating for sending troops to Syria." Not true- the GOP's top three FP voices, which Romney/Ryan listen to closely (McCain, Graham, Ayotte.. and I would frankly add Joe Lieberman) have made that case before.
UPDATE 10:06 PM Here, here.
UPDATE 10:02 PM Ryan is just, in over his head on this issue. It's not entirely his fault. There's just nothing Romney/Ryan can do effectively on this issue. Biden is making clear, unequivocal points... Ryan essentially agrees! But efforts to paint himself and Romney differently on Afghanistan are fruitless.
UPDATE 9:57 PM We've moved into Afghanistan. Ryan AND Biden have to be careful with this, though more Ryan. Again, there just isn't a radically different approach to this war unless Ryan just comes out saying "We'd stay beyond 2014" and he just said "We want to see the 2014 transition be successful."
UPDATE 9:50 PM "Oh, so now you're Jack Kennedy." Tour de force.
UPDATE 9:49 PM And my love for Peter Beinart continues
UPDATE 9:46 PM I'm sorry Mr. Ryan, but accusing Joe Biden of fear-mongering is outrageous. You're lucky Biden didn't bring up Republican efforts at voter suppression in HIS OWN STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA.
UPDATE 9:45 PM Biden is saying what is at the heart of this campaign: who do you trust more to take care of you?
UPDATE 9:42 PM Yup.
UPDATE 9:40 PM #ClassicJoe
UPDATE 9:38 PM Here are those letters Ryan sent to Biden securing stimulus grants: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/08/16/702921/after-documents-show-paul-ryan-secured-20-million-in-stimulus-grants-he-claims-i-never-asked-for-stimulus/
UPDATE 9:32 PM
UPDATE 9:30 PM Biden clearly just memorized a 100-word list of keywords to hit, and he's hitting them left and right. "Just get out of the way, show me a policy." It's solid.
UPDATE 9:28 PM Mr. Ryan... I'm confused by this college story from M.A.
UPDATE 9:23 PM Raddatz is moving on. Foreign policy section went... fine. Biden projected strength, hit Ryan hard. Ryan made no gaffes, but perhaps that was... the problem? His policy (meaning Romney's) appears NO different re: Iran, the Middle East than Obama's. It's quicksand as I said earlier... Romney just hasn't articulated a radically different foreign policy/national security than Obama/Biden. Apart from a few (unfounded) barbs on Israel/Netanyahu and a weak criticism on Libya, Ryan didn't do much to distinguish himself and Romney.
UPDATE 9:20 PM Biden: "You're a foreign policy expert, Martha. FACTS MATTER."
UPDATE 9:20 PM Biden:"[Obama's] spoken to [Netanyahu] more than he's talked to any other leader." On Iran: "Let's everybody calm down here... [Iran] is completely isolated."
UPDATE 9:15 PM Easy on the grins, Joe. Tough talk by Ryan on Iran, but no strategy, just blame. Also, disagree with Raddatz that Iran is the number one national security concern facing the United States. (China??)
UPDATE 9:15 PM "Even before we knew the Ambassador was dead, the governor was issuing a press conference. That's not presidential." Strong, STRONG start from Biden. "Frankly Congressman, that's a bunch of mallarky." Line of the night so far.
UPDATE 9:10 PM Biden hits the Ryan budget for it's cuts for Embassy security- the heart of the State Department security crisis. "These guys bet against America every time." He also pulls the first interruption of Ryan... President Obama, pay attention.
UPDATE 9:06 PM Ryan is taking the same line as Darrell Issa on Libya, as expected. "What we're watching is the unravelling of the Obama foreign policy." An incredulous grin from Biden.
UPDATE 9:05 PM Biden: "The last thing we need is another war."
UPDATE 9:03 PM Told ya Raddatz would go with Libya right off the bat. And Biden delves RIGHT into Obama's counterterrorism policy.
UPDATE 9:00 PM I'm frankly just looking forward to a debate that isn't moderated by the otherwise honorable Jim Leher. We struck gold (I hope) with Martha Raddatz.
UPDATE 8:50 PM We're about 10 minutes out. Tune into PolicyMic for LIVE updates of 2012 Vice Presidential debate
UPDATE 8:40 PM
UPDATE 8:35 PM Ok I lied, but I couldn't resist a Leslie Knope meme.
UPDATE 8:00 PM I'm going to hold off on the blogging until 9 PM when the debate starts- the television punditry is so poor I'd rather just wait to hear from the candidates themselves. Until then...
UPDATE 7:35 PM Looking for something to read for the next hour and a half? Give this Council of Foreign Relations brief a quick read. And while you're at it, this one, too. James Traub is a terrific writer and though it's a bit lengthy, you might thank me later. Biden knows his stuff, and Obama, though he might never say it, knows he's lucky to have him on the same ticket.
UPDATE 7:30 PM Seems a bit rude, Brits, but it's still a pretty good quip:
UPDATE 7:20 PM Biden just sent me an email: "Laura, I told Barack I have one mission tonight: tell the truth and stand up for what we believe in." Might be a good opening debate line.
UPDATE 7:10 PM I liked Chuck Todd a lot more about 5-10 years ago when he was just a backroom, unassuming hack working the numbers for Tim Russert, but even with all his "celebrity" now he still has the ability to offer a really thoughtful insight here and there. It might seem like an obvious point, but it's one a lot of Americans I think tend to forget about when they're watching VP debates. At the end of the day, one of the central, subliminal questions Americans will be asking themselves tonight, as Todd pointed out, is "Could this guy be President?" Obama and Romney are both relatively young and by all accounts fit, but it's still an interesting point of consideration, all morbidity or uncomfortability aside: What does America look like under President Biden or President Ryan? I won't weigh in on that now (though I certainly have a clearer idea of what a Biden administration looks like, than a Ryan one). It's the obvious, but seemingly un-discussed issue that hasn't come up in a lot of this pre-debate coverage. The challenge is for each man to clearly, and specifically, articulate their ticket's vision for America...
UPDATE 5:45 PM I freely admit that I am one of the arguably 13 or so Americans who counts foreign policy as the primary issue that concerns me in this election. Which is why I'll be paying particularly close attention to what Biden (who ought to speak with authority) and Ryan (who could theoretically surprise me if his prep has been thorough and moderate... unlikely) have to say on the U.S. and its position in the world, going forward. Pay particular attention to Libya, if and when it comes up (Raddatz, being the seasoned foreign correspondent she is, couldn't possibly ignore it). The Darrell Issa-led grilling of senior State Department officials on the Hill yesterday over alleged security failures in Benghazi will likely inform any position of Ryan's, but Biden has a lot of material to counter with in the face of GOP claims that this administration is soft on terrorism. Drones and the policy of targeted killing specifically may not come up, but count on Biden to speak authoratatively on Obama's tough stance when it comes to counterterrorism campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. It's quicksand for Ryan... a Romney administration would likely continue along the very same lines.
In any case, let's hope Biden has all the spirit of Bluto, and none of the substance.
UPDATE 5:00 P.M. T-MINUS 4 hours I've spent the better part of the day watching MSNBC in the lead-up to tonight's debate. It's a mess over there: excitment, anxiety, double and even quadruple split pundit screens, half-hourly poll number updates, the works. It's growing tiresome to watch and listen to (and no, a brief switch to CNN and FoxNews has offered nothing refreshing). And the debate is still over 4 hours away! But the real low point in this pre-debate coverage was when MSNBC reported (via the WashPost) what Paul Ryan had for lunch (tuna salad), and what he's thinking about for dinner (salmon with rice was the latest consensus). Really?
This pre-debate hype, which the media itself has created, has gotten the better of them. At the risk of sounding like a 20-something curmudgeon, thoughtful reflection as to what Biden and Ryan might say has seemingly given way to asinine speculation. Tuna salad might get a good chuckle, but this debate, and the personalities who have to be at their absolute best without fail tonight, feels increasingly, and worryingly, like a sideshow.
UPDATE 10:00 a.m. There is a lot of good pre-debate coverage today, but Jim Geraghty in the National Review offers a particularly smart list of potential debate topics including "Libya, al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, Iran, and sequestration." Geraghty makes the good point that given moderator and seasoned journalist Martha Raddatz's impressive foreign policy background, those five topics are likely to come up at some point. Foreign policy is one of Biden's strongest portfolios; he has been a staunch defender of the administration's handling of the Arab awakening, as well as its robust counterterrorism policy. Ryan, who has zero foreign policy experience, will attempt to paint the administration as soft on terrorism, given the fog still surrounding the attack in Bengahzi, but that's going to be a tough sell with Biden.
But the Ryan budget will have ample debate time, as well (Geraghty thinks Raddatz will devote an entire segment to it), so foreign policy won't be the only conversation of the night. Frankly, that ought to serve Biden well, too. President Obama's handling of domestic policy is still the primary focus of this election, with the economy still the number one concern among voters, so here is Biden's opportunity to deliver the political mood changer the adminstration needs.
Give the rest of Geraghty's short piece a read, and stay tuned for more of tonight's VP debate coverage here at PolicyMic.