Did Joe Biden bring in Al Gore as his debate coach? Did he review the tape from the Bush-Gore debate in 2000 and think obnoxious interruptions and smirks on questions of national security are the way to move voters? He sighed. He broke into Ryan’s answers. He chortled. His actual answers were the least of his problems. His tone and demeanor were beneath the office he currently holds.
Paul Ryan was fine. And, I mean that in the most literal use of the term. A snap CNN poll found that Ryan won the debate, 48-44. It wasn’t the decisive mauling that Romney delivered to Obama, but it was enough to sustain Romney’s momentum. At times, I wished Ryan had been more aggressive in defending his time to speak. Biden left some whoppers on the table that went unanswered.
That said, Ryan gave forceful, passionate answers to several questions and his closing was especially strong. He had a firm command of the situation in Libya, Syria and Afghanistan. Most voters only know him as a budget guy, so his command of these issues was probably a pleasant surprise. There was nothing in his performance that would suggest he wasn’t up to the job of being Vice-President.
Biden though, was beneath his office. He clearly carried the weight of the campaign’s recent stumbles on his shoulder. In the first hour, he acted like a man would had downed a six-pack of Red Bull before taking the stage. By the debate’s end, the sugar rush had clearly worn off and his speech was much slower and more deliberate. The frenetic pace is better for him, because you can’t pay as much attention to each word he says. As he slows up, the utter absurdity of what he’s saying becomes more clear.
Both Biden and Ryan had decent moments. In the end, Biden lost for two reasons. Ryan came off as an earnest and utterly reasonable person, with substantive ideas on a range of issues. He was likable. Biden’s biggest problem, though, was his tone. He was rude, abusive and dismissive. He repeatedly smirked while Ryan was prosecuting the Administration’s missteps in Libya. Smirking should be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind when four Americans have been murdered.
Biden’s tone was 100% completely wrong, both for the issues being discussed and the occasion.
I remember well the infamous Bush-Gore debate. In the immediate aftermath, pundits uniformly awarded the debate to Gore on points. It was only in the subsequent 2-3 days that it became clear Gore’s demeanor had offended a large swathe of voters. Within days, pundits reversed themselves and proclaimed Gore the clear loser. His hopes of the Presidency were ended with overwrought sighing. We’ll see how close Biden came to that.
Biden needed a clear win in this debate, to stem the bleeding the campaign has suffered since Obama’s disastrous performance last week. He may have stemmed some bleeding, but a solid performance by Ryan kept Biden from cauterizing the wound.