Veep Debate: Ready To Rumble?

[ Posted Wednesday, October 10th, 2012 – 17:16 UTC ]

With just four short weeks to go until the election, the 2012 race for the White House has tightened up considerably. Romney's performance in the first presidential debate has given him a solid boost, for now, and Obama is slipping in a number of very key states. Romney has still not "sealed the deal" by any stretch of the imagination, but then again, neither has Obama -- even though a week ago, that's where it looked like he was heading.

Barring an unforeseen "October Surprise" of some sort, we've got three big political events remaining. The vice-presidential debate happens tomorrow night, and there are still two presidential debates on the calendar. Days before the election, one more monthly unemployment number will be released, but the impact this will have may be minor, since history shows that the closer any political event is to voting day, the less impact it tends to have (for better or for worse).

Before tomorrow night, we'll be hearing a whole lot of "vice-presidential debates haven't ever mattered," mostly uttered by the same people who told us, a week ago, that "presidential debates rarely change anything." Since these nattering nabobs of negativism (to use a famous vice-presidential phrase) were wrong before, one has to at least consider that they may be wrong again. Tomorrow's debate may matter a great deal to the voters. The first presidential debate was watched by a jaw-dropping record number of viewers (upwards of 70 million), and it's all anyone's been talking about since in the political world (even the Big Bird stories were tied in to the debate). So perhaps quite a few folks will tune in tomorrow night as well, and perhaps Joe Biden and Paul Ryan may prove to move public opinion this time around.

Handicapping Biden and Ryan is almost impossible. Both men have solid records in one sense, and are on shaky ground in another. Starting with Ryan, he is a very good speaker in contentious question-and-answer settings. The proof of this is his many, many appearances on cable news shows before being named Mitt Romney's running mate. Ryan is always sure of himself, and always has a bevy of numbers to toss in the air. He's a fast-talker, too. Not in the pejorative sense (make your own mind up about that), but in the literal sense -- he speaks so quickly he can uncork a whole lot of ideas in a very short space of time. The quickness of his verbiage actually reaches the extremely high bar set by the fictional characters on the West Wing television show (who were always rushing through hallways, talking a mile a minute, it seemed). Crucially for Ryan, he has the ability of taking very complex concepts, seeing them through his own ideological lens, and presenting the result as the most eminently reasonable way of looking at things. Bill Clinton had the same magic touch.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, has had actual debating experience. He's good in debates in an entirely different way. He not only presents his facts, but does so with emotion -- a key ingredient missing from Obama's last debate. Joe also has plenty of real-world political experience both in foreign policy and in the ways of Washington. He's been around the block quite a few times, to put it another way. Also in his favor in debate settings, Biden has a wonderful way of pointing out when the other side is just flat-out being ridiculous. He even had to tone this down in the last debate he took part in, so as not to appear to be "beating up" on Sarah Palin too much. This time, he'll have no such restraint. Finally, Biden relates to his audience well, especially those further down the economic scale. Again, like Clinton, he has the shining ability to feel people's pain.

Both participants have negatives, too. Ryan has never been on a national debate stage, for instance. I would bet this isn't going to be much of an impediment, though, because of all that time he's spent on cable television practicing the modern debating style rather than the formal, traditional style. Look for Ryan to attempt to talk all over the moderator and over Biden, because that's what plays well on cable. It'll appear aggressive, and the only question is whether it'll appear too aggressive to viewers at home. Since almost nobody said Romney appeared too aggressive last week, Ryan will probably feel pretty unconstrained here. Ryan's other big drawback -- one that seems to be coming to light more often -- is that he is pretty short-tempered with people who disagree with him and question his pronouncements. Look for Biden to really try to get under Ryan's skin, in the hopes that Ryan will fly off the handle in some unguarded moment. The last big drawback Ryan's got is the handcuffs the Romney team has placed upon him. Paul Ryan has a few budget bills to his name, but he's only the number two guy on the ticket, and has had to squelch a lot of his own bright ideas because Romney won't fully back them. He's had to say things like "but that's my budget plan you're talking about, not Mitt Romney's," and this could be a big handicap tomorrow night. If Biden hammers Ryan on Ryan's own budget, Ryan will be reduced to using this line over and over again, which may come off as rather weak.

Joe Biden's negatives are... well, tune in to just about any late night comedy show to see. Sigh. Joe Biden has (like it or not) been cast as the comic relief in the Obama administration. Joe occasionally says things inelegantly, to put it nicely. To put it not-so-nicely, the entire punditary world will be on high "gaffe alert" tomorrow night, just salivating over the possibility that Biden will say something they can cut down to a five-second laugh line. Biden's other problem is that at times he can seem almost too emotional. He gets so caught up in being indignant that what he is actually talking about tends to get lost. Paul Ryan will doubtlessly be looking to exploit both of these perceived weaknesses tomorrow night. Biden can also slip into a slightly-annoying speaking trait, where he gets rather repetitive of certain words and phrases (notably, starting his answers with "Look..."). Now, I realize that me saying this of Biden is entering pot/kettle territory ( to speak... to put it another way... one might say... in other words... etc., etc.), but the real question is whether the voters tune such things out or not.

Tomorrow night's debate should prove to be a fascinating one. It may get downright brutal at times. Both Ryan and Biden are fully capable of going for the jugular, and the Obama team knows it is in a slump. Joe Biden has relished the traditional campaign role of "attack dog" so far this year, and Paul Ryan is equally capable of baring his teeth and getting in the fray as well. Both men will be trying mightily to provoke the other to the point of saying something they really shouldn't, which should certainly make for some interesting television. Biden is more experienced at this sort of thing, and he's got a lot of real world experience to draw upon, although there likely will be no opening for a "You're no Jack Kennedy" type of line for Biden to showcase Ryan's inexperience. Ryan's a lot better than Dan Quayle ever was, in other words.

Tomorrow will be an important night. In normal times, of course, "veep" debates aren't that big a deal. After last week's presidential debate -- and Romney's subsequent surge in the polls -- this time around the stakes are a lot higher than normal. Viewership may set a record (although likely not as high as the record set last Wednesday). Of course, this is how the media loves to frame these events, but this time it may actually be true. The media also loves underdogs, and at this point, the Obama/Biden team occupies this role.

The only thing I'd bet on in both the lead-up and aftermath of tomorrow night's debate is that the media focus will be on feistiness and snarkiness. Look for endless boxing ring metaphors to be deployed. The veep debate coverage will be downright pugilistic in nature this year:

"Who will be the creep and who will put us to sleep? Will Republicans sweep or will Democrats reap? Will one campaign be thrown on the trash heap? Tune in Thursday... Thursday... Thursday! It's the 2012 Battle For Veep! Let's get ready to RU-UMM-MMM-BLE!!!"

-- Chris Weigant


Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


9 Comments on “Veep Debate: Ready To Rumble?”

  1. [1] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    The good news for the Left is that if ol' Joe can manage to keep Foot-A out of Mouth-B, the press will hail him the hands-down winner, no matter how well Ryan does. So at least you've got that to look forward to. Biden can be a very disciplined guy when he has to be. So I think he'll do very well.

    As for O, he's gotta come out swinging like an animal in Round Two. He's got no other choice. Don't know how well the "liar" strategy is gonna serve him and Team-O in the end, but I hear that's the route they're taking.

  2. [2] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Well apparently the problem with Obama is that apparently calling your opponent a liar, when he changes every single policy he's held in the last 2 years, is seen as 'un-Presidential'. Biden doesn't have this to hold him back. I hope he lets go big time on the tirade of la-la-land nonsense that has been coming out of Romney/Ryan's mouth during and since the Presidential debate.

    I am almost certain Ryan will attempt to Gish-Gallop Biden in the same way Romney did to Obama. I get the feeling it will not be as effective.

  3. [3] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Off topic but: wow weekly jobless claims fell 8% this week. At this rate the unemployment rate is going to be the same as it was when Reagan was re-elected in a super-landslide ;)

  4. [4] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Here is how I'd present the financial situation in America to the lay person in a 2 minute window during a debate:

    'I want to describe my plan in an analogy. Let's say you have $100 on a credit card that your irresponsible son, let's call him Beorge Gush, ran up. Well Mr Romney/Ryan and I have a vastly different plan as to how to pay that $100 off.

    My plan is to go to my boss - you the taxpayer - and say you know that pay cut for millionaires that we had under George Bush in 2001? Well it doesn't seem to have done much, we think it's time to stop giving them a hand-out. We want to raise $30 of revenue using this method which will go towards this $100 then pay off the other $70 slowly - over time - so it won't badly affect the economy. Things like ending the war in Afghanistan - there's another $10 towards the $100.

    Now let's compare this plan firstly to what's happening across the pond. In Europe they decided the only way to pay off the $100 was austerity - basically cut the entire $100 out immediately, not slowly over time. As you have seen in the news it has been disastrous for the EU economies as they've slipped back into recession.

    Think that's bad? Well I haven't got to the part about what Mr Romney/Ryan want to do yet! First of all they want to go to their boss - the taxpayer - and say 'we are really struggling to pay the bills, can we have a pay cut?'. This pay cut will be through decreased taxes - but wait! Not decreased taxes on everyone - only millionaires. The rest of you? Not so lucky. Pay cuts for everyone, except millionaires.

    So with this pay cut the $100 they owe becomes $150. $5 trillion is added on to the debt. But wait! They're not done there. They want to increase the size of Government by giving the military a couple of trillion dollars that they don't need. That's another $20 onto the tab making it $170.

    So they've taken the credit card balance of $100 and already they have turned it into $170. That's the maths and arithmetic of the situation. Now how do they plan on dealing with this $170? Well the answer is to do what Europe did but an even MORE extreme version of austerity. Gut regulations; gut healthcare; gut Medicare and Medicaid; gut education; fire teachers, firemen, police officers. They want to take the safety net and turn it into a safety string.

    As you can see what they are proposing is dangerous to the entire economic country, dangerous for the country and dangerous for the worldwide economic recovery. They can not be allowed to succeed.'

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    Speaking of out-sourcing...

    My friend Mo has been feeling depressed of late....

    So, he called a suicide-prevention hotline. The hotline had been outsourced to a Call Center in Pakistan...

    He told them that he was suicidal..

    They got excited and asked if he could drive a truck....



  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    I seem to remember that a lot of people here like the REAL CLEAR POLITICS polls...

    Obama has 59 Electoral College votes under the "LIKELY" and "LEAN" columns..

    Romney has 105 Electoral College votes under the "LIKELY" and "LEAN" columns..

    156 Electoral Votes are in the "TOSS UP" Column...

    Anyone here STILL like RCP??? :D


  7. [7] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    Joe's been doing a nice job up 'til now, but he's gotta stop interrupting and chuckling, etc. He's coming across as smug. Like a big blowhard.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, Chris ... it's nearly midnight here in the eastern time zone and I can't wait much longer for the next piece ... guess I'll catch it later ... :(

  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    Obama has 59 Electoral College votes under the "LIKELY" and "LEAN" columns..

    Romney has 105 Electoral College votes under the "LIKELY" and "LEAN" columns..

    156 Electoral Votes are in the "TOSS UP" Column...

    Anyone here STILL like RCP??? :D

    It's not as bad as I first thought for Team Obama..

    The RCP listed just the likely and lean, and put the SOLID at the top, which I missed..

    So, all totaled it's 201 for Obama and 181 for Romney with 156 as toss-up..

    But that's still a HUGE leap for Romney. Most of it likely due to the first Obama/Romney debate.. When the Veep debate hits the masses, I wager that the leap will continue upwards...


Comments for this article are closed.