The Veep Debate: Blog Reax II

Andrew Sullivan —  Oct 12 2012 @ 11:29am


Beinart explains why Biden won:

The debate showed why it’s still Obama’s race to lose, if he remembers to show up for the next two debates. Some of the issues where the Republican Party brand was once strong—crime, welfare—no longer matter. And on some others—national security, fiscal management—the brand is no longer what it once was. As a result, Ryan had to change the perception of his party whereas Biden merely had to confirm the perception of his. The man with the easier job won.

Joe Klein scores the debate:

Joe Biden won — certainly on the substance, although he lost a bit on the body language. His frustrated smiles, head shakes, etc., etc., will become a Republican talking point and influence the postgame evaluations, even if they were sort of justified. Biden was in command throughout, a more forceful and passionate presence than Paul Ryan. But Ryan did well too — unflappable even when Biden nailed him on his requests for stimulus funding. And Ryan had some nice moments, arguing uphill against Biden’s onslaught. I’m sure he passed muster on foreign policy knowledge — he’s been to the Arghandab River Valley in Kandahar province, for God’s sake! — even if his policy proposals were either fatuous or dangerous.

Fallows also gives Biden the win:

Paul Ryan, who was fine, did not advance his team's prospects beyond what Mitt Romney had done last week. Whereas Joe Biden, who put on the best performance of his long career, supplied the only good news his team has had in six days (since last Friday's jobs report). Even though, yes, he could have smiled less. Obama owes him, BFD-style.

Chait eats crow:

In case you missed it, I predicted that Paul Ryan would wipe the floor with Joe Biden. That did not so much happen. Ryan did not perform quite as well as I expected — he seemed greener, younger, and he visibly gulped when challenged. But Biden delivered a revelatory performance that proved me utterly wrong, and probably gave depressed Democrats an emotional jolt in the process.

Michael Medved argues that Biden's rudeness will turn off voters:

The debate became queasy, unpleasant, uncomfortable to watch, not because Biden overpowered his opponent on substance (he emphatically did not), but because the normal, reassuring, ritualized sense of congeniality and decorum seemed altogether lacking. When TV professionals analyze the viewing audience in detail, I’d be surprised if a huge number of debate watchers didn’t tune out the broadcast in disgust or at least uneasiness after the first half hour.

Ponnuru's related point:

I think Biden’s manner is the story of the debate, and the public reaction to it will end up determining who won. I thought he was fine, at first: feisty, ready to mix it up, happy to be there, unlike President Barack Obama last week in Denver. Pretty soon, though, the yelling, the giggling, and the constant interruptions became unpleasant. He started reminding me why I don’t watch Bill O’Reilly. Ryan clearly didn’t want to do anything in response that could be construed as losing his cool, but I wonder if he didn’t go too far in the other direction by thanking Biden at the end.

John Sides rejects this sort of analysis:

Here’s some breaking news: the kind of people who choose to watch a vice-presidential debate instead of baseball or football or a cooking show are not sensitive souls who curl up into a ball at the first sign of disagreement between politicians.  People who choose to watch political conflict can deal with it.  Those who can’t—or just aren’t interested in the first place—are watching something else.  Research by political scientists Kevin Arceneaux and Martin Johnson shows this.

Kevin Drum adds:

The Fox News crowd is going absolutely nuts over Biden's smiling and laughing. I guess I don't blame them, really. I probably would too if I were them. Partly this is because I think Biden overdid things on this score, but mostly because it's a lot easier than trying to take on the substance of the debate, where Biden pretty clearly got the better of Ryan. 

Tomasky piles on:

Yes, Biden interrupted too much. This is what the wingers are going to be trying to push now. And his smile. “Condescending,” they will say. And they’ll bitch about Martha Raddatz. This is the kind of thing people do when they know their guy lost. 

Larison felt that Ryan was weak on foreign policy:

It was on foreign policy where Ryan was most obviously outmatched, as I assumed he would be. Especially in the sections of the debate on Afghanistan and Syria, Ryan was stuck defending Romney’s very similar positions on both while trying to argue against administration policy. It wasn’t an enviable task, and Ryan was limited by what he had to work with, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ryan didn’t inspire much confidence that he is prepared to be president if the need arose. It’s not surprising that Ryan didn’t do very well in these sections. He isn’t “fluent” on foreign policy, and that should have been obvious all along. Ryan’s boosters did him a great disservice by pretending that he was.

Friedersdorf declares Ryan unfit for high office:

Here's the difference between Biden and Ryan: whereas Biden has been studying foreign policy for many decades (over which he's made his share of mistakes), everything Ryan knows about foreign policy, or at least everything he's shown us he knows, comes from interventionist ideologues with talking points that test well among the base and bear little resemblance to reality. I didn't quite realize how awful Ryan's performance was until I read the transcript of the debate. Biden did smile too much. It distracted me from Ryan's apparent unfitness to be commander-in-chief.

Mataconis disagrees:

Paul Ryan accomplished what he needed to last night. In Ryan’s case, the primary task was to demonstrate his readiness on the national stage to take over should something happen to Mitt Romney. I was actually surprised that the issue didn’t specifically come up during the debate itself, but I’d say that in his answers on both foreign and domestic policy, Ryan demonstrated that readiness quite effectively. If the Congressman fell short, it was that it didn’t strike me that he came off as the overwhelming debater that some of his Republican boosters were anticipating. 

So does Scott Galupo:

If Team Romney’s overarching hope tonight was that the 42-year-old Paul Ryan would appear capable of filling a president’s shoes, they have no reason to be disappointed.

Lexington calls the debate a draw:

It was a good, watchable debate, that will probably change nothing at all about this dead-even race. And therein lies a final, gloomy thought for Democrats. If there was any big conclusion to be drawn from tonight’s impressive sparring by two understudies, it was that—if Joe Biden and Paul Ryan can do it—Barack Obama’s dismal, passive performance last week in his first debate with Mitt Romney was all the more baffling and inexcusable.

Jonathan Bernstein says the ball is now in Obama's court:

It was probably a night that put Democrats, especially those dedicated enough to watch, in a much better mood than they had been for the last week. It’s possible that might even move the needle a bit by pushing them to answer pollsters with a bit more enthusiasm. But soon enough, the nominees will be back onstage, and if Obama wants to keep any gains with Democrats that Biden may have made tonight, he’s going to have to do it himself.

Ezra Klein agrees:

The Romney campaign argued Biden was too aggressive, too bullying, too mean. The Obama campaign argued that Biden had destroyed Ryan. Judging from my Twitter feed, most Democrats agreed. They saw the fight in Biden that they’d wanted to see in Obama. They felt the Obama campaign had learned from last week and changed their strategy. That was Biden’s job tonight, and he did it.

But if it was Biden’s job tonight, it’s really Obama’s job going into the homestretch in the election. Biden gave Democrats hope tonight. But the real question is whether, in the next presidential debate, Obama will give them change.

(Photo: President Barack Obama watches the Vice Presidential debate aboard Air Force One with staff, en route to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, from Florida, Oct. 11, 2012. Official White House Photo, from the White House Flickr stream, by Pete Souza.)