Joe Biden vs. Paul Ryan Debate Scorecard: Oct 11, 2012
During tonight’s vice presidential debate, Vice President Biden repeatedly laughed at inappropriate moments. He continually interrupted both his opponent and the moderator. He looked a little too angry for his own good at certain moments. His tone vacillated wildly.
And he won the debate.
If Mr. Biden’s job in this debate was to staunch the bleeding caused by President Obama’s phoned-in performance at last week’s presidential debate, he succeeded. In contrast, Congressman Ryan—who was more consistent in tone throughout the debate—too often appeared rehearsed, flat, and junior.
I suspect many readers will disagree with my conclusion. And they have some reasonable ammunition with which to disagree.
Dissenting readers will likely point to Mr. Biden’s demeanor. And they’d be right that four different Bidens showed up for the debate. First, the Biden who smiled and laughed at forced and inopportune moments; second, the Biden who repeatedly interrupted; third, the Biden who became heated and angry; and fourth, the Biden who was quiet and reflective.
Watching Biden’s performance was a bit like watching Showtime’s “United States of Tara.”
Despite all of that, Mr. Biden was simply more effective at controlling the debate, challenging his opponent’s premises, and delivering memorable messages. Unlike the president he serves, Mr. Biden confronted Ryan directly throughout the debate, memorably saying, “Stop talking about how you care about people. Show me something. Show me a policy.”
Even more importantly, Biden forged a warmer and more emotional personal connection with viewers, particularly when addressing seniors regarding Medicare by looking directly into the camera.
If Mr. Biden’s job tonight was to change the media narrative, Mr. Ryan’s was to prove that he’s ready for the vice presidency while holding the ground Republicans have gained over the past week. He met that challenge tonight, but didn’t exceed it. My guess is that his performance will be almost completely forgotten by next week.
Watching these debates is a bit of a Rorschach test, in which viewers see what they’re conditioned to see. What I saw in Mr. Ryan was a serious student who had studied his materials well but who had tried a bit too hard to memorize his lines—and who lost some of his authenticity as a result. With the exception of a couple of well-delivered anecdotes (particularly on his 2002 trip to Afghanistan), he came across as rather academic.
And Ryan came dangerously close to Dan Quayle territory when he referenced John F. Kennedy. “Now you’re Jack Kennedy?” an incredulous Joe Biden asked.
Still, Mr. Ryan had several good moments. He delivered a strong closing statement about the national debt, and did a credible job of discussing Afghanistan later in the debate. One highlight came when Ryan turned to Biden and said: “With respect to that quote [Mitt Romney’s infamous 47 percent comment], I think the Vice President knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth in the right way.” Unfortunately for Mr. Ryan, Biden had the perfect retort: “But I always say what I mean, and so does Romney.”
There were two other moments worth noting. First, Mr. Ryan took a deep breath in before answering a question about the availability of abortion in America under a Romney-Ryan administration. That may hurt with pro-choice voters who occasionally swing right. Second, Joe Biden chose to label Paul Ryan “my friend” 13 times during the debate, which became an insincere distraction.
Overall, Joe Biden displayed all of the passion for his job that Democrats wish President Obama had last week. And Paul Ryan held his own, even if his performance is likely to disappear into the political ether within days.
Grades: Joe Biden: B+ Paul Ryan: B-
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Mr. Biden pleased his base but I don’t think his performance impressed independents and undecideds. More importantly I don’t think either performance was good enough to move polls. The VP debate didn’t hurt Republicans and will only help the Democrats if President Obama follows up with a strong showing next week.
I think yours is a reasonable analysis of last night’s debate. Both men arguably did what they needed to last night, and I suspect the overall impact of last night’s debate will be relatively small.
Thanks for commenting,
I think Biden won but by a very slim margin. Ryan was incredibly poised and well spoken. With regard to offsetting Obama’s total lackluster performance, Biden definitely delivered and came with a lot of heart and fire, thank god. While I respect Obama’s maturity in spades, sometimes labeled as “cool”, I want to see a little more of his passion AND his anger.
And regarding the “my friend” tactic of addressing Ryan I thought it was quite brilliant. With that label and the tone in which it was spoken, it felt genuinely caring, somewhat fatherly, and also urgent. It struck the perfect note of camaraderie without being smarmy.
Who said that Biden’s job was to staunch the bleeding of Obama’s sleeper performance? That wasn’t his job. Biden needed to do what Obama didn’t do: build confidence among voters that the Obama ticket has done a good job and will continue to do a good job. He wasn’t there to rebound the President–that doesn’t win voters.
Biden failed because nobody walked away with a new feeling that the President is capable of rebuilding this country. Nobody. Biden’s message was this: the other guy is worse than us, so VOTE FOR OBAMA!
You’re right about some of your points related to tone, posture, etc, etc. But again, the premise was flawed.
(Biden also lied several times–especially about Catholic orgs not having to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception or sterilization. Dozens of lawsuits haven’t been filed because there is no problem. But I digress…)