No, the answer isn’t “just show up.” Biden is a master of malarkey, turning clear defeats into victories, fiction into fact. In 2008, Gov. Sarah Palin completely outclassed her more seasoned opponent. And yet the post-debate commentary–often more important than the debate itself–gave Biden the win, according to viewer polls. The media, looking for an Obama comeback, will be in Uncle Joe’s corner. So Ryan has a tough task ahead.
The first key to victory–as always–is to look past the opponent, and recognize that a debate is a unique opportunity to address the American people. Ryan must convince them that he is a better potential commander-in-chief than his opponent. He has to do that through temperament, not through talking points. Mitt Romney won his first debate by attacking, but Ryan needs to strike a different tone. He has a different case to prove.
Second, Ryan must–as Romney did–mock the moderator, gently. Martha Raddatz is a proven partisan, a dependable left-wing filter. Again, this is a fine art, and Ryan will have to wait for the right moment. But invariably, a moment will come when she will reveal her bias, and Ryan should seize the opportunity to talk past her and directly to the American people. Even Democrats distrust the media, and enjoy seeing them taken down a peg.
Third, Ryan must call “malarkey” (a favorite Biden term) on everything–everything–that leaves Joe Biden’s lips. Biden is not only a gaffe machine: he is a liar, and will make up facts when he is cornered. Among dozens of misleading statements he made during his 2008 debate with Gov. Sarah Palin, for example, was the claim that “along with France, [we] kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon.” No one–neither Palin nor the media–objected.
It is important to understand just how important Biden’s malarkey is to him, not just as a debate strategy, but as an essential part of his character. His “working-class” persona is a farce, an act put on for, and enjoyed by, elites who have no idea what “working-class” means. It’s all an act, as are the many heroic tall tales he tells about himself–such as, most recently, a false claim to have played football for the University of Delaware.
Democrats like to pretend that Ryan is a “liar”–a line of attack that originates with New York Times columnist (and Enron beneficiary) Paul Krugman, who ought to have won his Nobel Prize for partisan hackery, not economics. Krugman, unable to accept that someone would actually challenge Keynesian excess on the merits, simply declared that Ryan was a liar, not someone honestly arriving at a different set of conclusions.
It’s an attack to which the left has clung, in homage to the political canard that you always attack your opponent where he or she is strongest. Ryan’s trademark sincerity is the key to his appeal; it is something Democrats cannot stand, and refuse to tolerate. So they attack it at every (rare) opportunity, claiming that genuine lapses of memory–or pure differences of opinion and philosophy–are in fact attempts to mislead the public.
The Democrats and the mainstream media will have that “liar” narrative ready–fresh from their attacks on Ryan’s outstanding speech at the Democratic National Convention and from last week’s feeble attempts to win some points back from Romney. So Ryan must callout Biden’s “malarkey” even more assiduously than Romney pushed back against Obama’s distortions of his positions. Let Biden face up to his own label.
Finally–and this is crucial–Ryan must remind the American people that the debate is not just about who would be the best Vice President, but the best potential President. And Biden has a record to defend–a very poor record–as the nation’s second-most-powerful government executive, from opposing the raid on Osama bin Laden to letting the massive stimulus become the government’s most expensive and corrupt failure.
Ryan should also be mindful of his own weaknesses–specifically, of his tendency to rely on abstractions rather than the personal, real-life stories–and be ready to fill in those gaps. If he can do that, and focus attention on Biden’s malarkey–maneuvering past the moderator’s attempt to defend and deflect–then Ryan will not only defeat Biden (as expected), but “beat the spread,” and move the Romney/Ryan ticket closer to victory.