by Rob Roper
Democrats were fawning all over the job Joe Biden did in the vice presidential debate Thursday night, saying this is just what the Obama team needed after the president’s disastrous performance in his first time at bat versus Mitt Romney. However, what Biden did will not help his ticket over the long term, and will probably end up hurting. While the presidential debate ended in a clear knock-out, the wounds to Biden’s will be a slow bleed.
First and foremost, Ryan won the debate according to most polls immediately following the event. CNN gave a narrow 48-44 margin to Ryan. That Democrats are celebrating a narrow loss as opposed to a victory is a pretty good indication of how desperate they are for good news.
Secondly, people don’t really vote for president based on vice presidential candidates. As such, the challenge for both Biden and Ryan was to do no harm, either to themselves or to their running mate. Here is where Ryan shined and Biden blew it. Ryan looked knowledgeable, likeable, held his own in the arguments, gave people the impression he would be acceptable a heartbeat away from the presidency, and didn’t commit any gaffs or tell any whoppers that would linger or fester after the cameras went away.
Biden… not so much.
Biden’s aggressive style with the bizarre laughter and obnoxious facial expressions that had all the hosts over at MSNBC enjoying that old thrill-running-up-the-leg sensation once again has been roundly rebuked and mocked by just about everybody else (Check out Saturday Night Live’s take HERE). Fact-wise, Biden’s claim that he voted against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was untrue. He voted for them, and such a brazen lie does not go unnoticed. Biden’s responses on the murder of our American ambassador in Libya have also stirred unwanted controversy and discussion on a topic the Obama campaign would like to forget. His responses on abortion, also of questionable veracity, have ignited the ire of the Catholic Bishops. So, Biden may have stopped the bleeding in terms of compensating for the presidents’ weakness in the first debate, but he opened up a bunch of new arteries that are hemorrhaging here.
Since a much smaller number of people tuned in to the vice presidential debate that the presidential debate, most people’s impressions will be formed by what they hear about the event. The after-chatter battle is the one you want to win, and Ryan clearly did.
Finally, and here is a point that I haven’t heard others talking about, there is the gift moderator Martha Raddatz gave the Romney campaign. Much was made (though perhaps not enough) about Raddatz strong personal ties to the Obama administration and people in it, raising serious questions about a conflict of interest. For those who watched, it seemed apparent that she did tend to favor Biden in her role as referee. One element of apparent favoritism came way by focusing the majority of the debate on foreign policy, Biden’s supposed strong suit, and less on domestic/economic issues, which is Ryan’s expertise. But, this was actually a tremendous boon to the Romney campaign. Here’s why…
Even if Biden had cleaned Ryan’s clock on the issue (which he didn’t) it wouldn’t have mattered much in the context of a vice presidential debate to the overall outcome of the election. Where a clear foreign policy debate victory could matter is in the presidential forum coming up on Tuesday, which is all about foreign policy. So, what Raddatz actually did was force Biden to show the Obama team’s foreign policy cards to the Romney camp. Not since George McClellan accidentally found a copy of Robert E. Lee’s battle plan before the battle of Sharpsburg has one side been given such a huge advantage going into a fight.
Certainly, the Romney team is busy dissecting Biden’s statements, arguments and lines of attack, as well as Ryan’s responses, for strengths and weaknesses. Obama’s element of surprise is diminished, and look for Romney’s answers to the president to be sharp and polished. Obama desperately needs a debate victory. Now, as the result of the vice presidential debate, it will be harder for him to get one.