Phew!

We all know that vice-presidential debates don't matter, or at least that's what we knew until last night. This one, however, may turn out to matter quite a bit, even if it doesn't produce any major movement in the polls, for two reasons. The first is the obvious one: it has already made despondent Democrats feel a lot better. They wanted to see their guy aggressively take on the other side, and that's exactly what they got. Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos probably spoke for most Democrats when he wrote, "Tonight felt great, didn't it? ... we base liberals are happy again, which means we'll be productive bees because no matter what some of you claim, no one likes to work hard for the team that is 10 points down (or feels that way)."

Conservatives, on the other hand, are unanimous in their judgment that Biden was overbearing and mean. Last night on Fox, Brit Hume called him "a cranky old man." "Biden Bombed," reads the Fred Barnes piece on the Weekly Standard web site. "Classless Joe," says the National Review. They aren't completely wrong—Biden certainly interrupted Ryan more than was necessary, and could have dialed back the smiling and head-shaking a bit. But his unrelenting aggressiveness was just what Democrats wanted to see, and will no doubt spur President Obama to try to avoid looking somnolent by comparison.

The second reason the vice-presidential debate matters is that it sets the stage for the final two presidential debates in an important substantive way. To see why, let's look back at one of the things many observers found odd about the first Obama-Romney debate, that Obama never brought up the "47 percent" video. Many put it down to timidity on Obama's part, but my interpretation was that Obama may have calculated the following: We're already killing him with ads on this, and he's surely prepared a great response for when I bring it up, so let's not give him the chance to turn it to his advantage. But what we saw last night was that it turns out that the Romney campaign doesn't have a great response to the question. It's true that Ryan had a practiced zinger—"I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way"—but that's a response that sounds good for a minute but doesn't change how people think about the matter. The substance of Ryan's response, which was that Romney is "a good man" who gives a lot of money to charity, was met by Biden with exactly the right counter, which is that it doesn't matter whether Romney is a good man in his personal life if the policies he advocates aren't good for millions of people.

And this kind of thing happened again and again in the debate: Biden would attack Romney, and Ryan would offer a middling defense that amounted to little more than a repetition of the same things he and Romney say on the stump every day. A large part of debate preparation is practicing your responses for the attacks you know are going to come, and if the Romney campaign had fantastic answers to the criticisms about their tax plan, about Medicare, about Iran, or about any number of other issues, Ryan would have offered them. But he didn't.

So Barack Obama probably watched this debate and concluded that Mitt Romney doesn't have any more surprises up his sleeve. Obama has said that he was shocked in the first debate when Romney began unveiling his new moderate persona and didn't quite know how to react. I wouldn't be surprised if there's some truth to that. But now there isn't anywhere else for Romney to go. Biden hit Ryan with everything he had, and nothing Ryan said could make Obama the least bit uneasy about what Romney will do when they meet again on Tuesday night. So like his supporters, Obama probably came away from last night substantially more uplifted and confident than he was 24 hours ago, and that could be the real impact of the vice-presidential debate.

Comments

I think, strategically, it was good for the President to hold back on the "47%" remark, to avoid allowing Romney to give his "sincere" apology on the national stage, and then to respond to the weakness of the retraction (at least initially) through Biden. Nobody would have doubted that Romney would have a practiced, rehearsed response to that reference ready to go, and it would have been a reasonable campaign strategy not to lay the ground work for its presentation.

Another point of criticism leveled at the President is his suggestion that he and Romney had a similar strategy on Social Security - a few tweaks and, boom, fixed, done. I think that was intended as a trap - to try to get Romney to emphatically disagree, and perhaps even stumble down Ryan's path and start talking about privatization. That issue remains open for debates #2 and #3, but now there's an implicit contradiction. "When I said that the Governor and I agreed on how to fix Social Security, to keep it safe for our seniors for generations to come, the Governor smiled and nodded his head. But now Congressman Ryan says they want to privatize Social Security, again taking us back to the failed policies of the Bush Administration. It's difficult to debate an opponent who comes down firmly on both sides of every important issue."

Good article Paul. This describes me to a 'T'! I was one despondent Democrat -- now I feel a whole lot better! Way to go Joe -- I wouldn't have changed a thing!

The only specific I heard from Ryan was the one about how all people under age 55 will be kissing their lifetime social security contributions goodbye and be forced to do battle with for-profit insurance companies throughout their golden years. Are Americans really planning on voting against their own economic interests? These billionaire puppets are going to do this if you vote for them. Don't be foolish. STRAIGHT DEMOCRATIC TICKETS PLEASE. Thank you.
Watch all of your favorite teapublicans morphing together in this 3-minute video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvTIphPnDM8

The only specific I heard from Ryan was the one about how all people under age 55 will be kissing their lifetime social security contributions goodbye and be forced to do battle with for-profit insurance companies throughout their golden years. Are Americans really planning on voting against their own economic interests? These billionaire puppets are going to do this if you vote for them. Don't be foolish. STRAIGHT DEMOCRATIC TICKETS PLEASE. Thank you.
Watch all of your favorite teapublicans morphing together in this 3-minute video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvTIphPnDM8

It appears that even among groups that think Biden "won" more voters switched to Romney:

Survey USA results:
Tampa/St. Pete… Ryan wins debate 42-38
Change vote? yes: 73% to Romney 27% to Obama!

In New York area, Biden wins debate 54-30
But vote switchers still went 54%-38% in favor of Romney…

CA Biden wins debate 48% to 41%
but vote switchers favor Romney 59% to 40%

Thanks for the skewed polls, and disinformation. Stupid.

The Dems can "take heart" all they want. No doubt the base loved Biden's hystrionics on stage.

But I assure you that to most of the undecided voters out there in the middle who will decide the election, Biden came across as a loud, arrogant, rude, condescending a-hole.

People very rarely enjoy voting for a-holes.

Moreover, I'm guessing that an awful lot of undecided voters out there were asking themselves on Friday morning "Gee, is that really someone I'd want sitting in the Oval Office making critical decisions if something happened to Barack Obama?" For most of them, the answer is probably "No".

The undecided middle, like the conservative right, LOVES loud, arrogant, rude, condescending a-holes. That's why they like Republicans. And why Democrats have been losing since the 1960s when they ditched the cigar-chomping, back-room aggressive politics and went all wimpy and smarmy and nice. Let's get more of that aggression, toughness, and machismo on the Democratic side--don't let the devil have all the good tunes. Ruthlessly trash them, beat the crap out of them, no holds barred. Tough wins!

Assure me all you want. You are a far right wingnut, and have no clue what "middle" means.

I don't think the VP debate has much significance in the big picture. We don't vote for Vice President. No doubt, the base ate it up but I don't think anyone else was that impressed with Biden's overwrought performance and, like me, may even have been embarrassed for him. For as many people who were turned on by it, just as many and possibly more were turned off. I sort of agree with Greg Gutfeld's take on the debate: "Biden's the drunk at the bar; Martha is the unhappy bartender and Ryan is the unfortunate salesman caught in the middle."

I watched the debate and based on my work at McLean Psychiatric Hospital in Boston ( a Harvard teaching hospital) Biden's behavior, including the gestures as well as the almost manic efforts to interrupt Ryan WOULD REQUIRE A REVIEW OF MEDICATTIONS AND DOSAGES.

there is something deeply distrubing psychologically about this guy.

btw, went to great lenghts to state "he did NOT vote for the wars because he know we could not afford them." EXCEPT - HE DID VOTE FOR THEM

I see. So the sane thing to do is vote for a rich man with an overweening sense of entitlement but with no particular vision for the future of the country; and for his running-mate, whose only "plan" is to screw the middle-class. By the way, your position as lab assistant there at McLean probably doesn't lend as much gravitas to your pronouncements as you would like to think.

"vote for a rich man with an overweening sense of entitlement but with no particular vision for the future of the country; and for his running-mate, whose only "plan" is to screw the middle-class." Obama is already screwing the middle class. How would proposing to do that be any different from the current administration? Oh wait, I see, you are talking about the current administration! I think it is fun that libs love to accuse others of what they are already doing.

I watched the debate and based on my work at McLean Psychiatric Hospital in Boston ( a Harvard teaching hospital) Biden's behavior, including the gestures as well as the almost manic efforts to interrupt Ryan WOULD REQUIRE A REVIEW OF MEDICATTIONS AND DOSAGES.

there is something deeply distrubing psychologically about this guy.

btw, went to great lenghts to state "he did NOT vote for the wars because he know we could not afford them." EXCEPT - HE DID VOTE FOR THEM

They'll say whatever makes them sound good at the time a.k.a. lie in front of the whole country. I had a similar feeling about Ryan when I saw him debate Biden. Just looking at his gestures and facial expressions, it's freaky to imagine him being the vice president. I'm glad Republicans didn't win. - David @ http://www.injuryattorneysguide.com/

The Chimp versus the Professor.

Like in some old vaudeville act, the kids cheered for the audacious and disrespectful chimp. Hands down.

But this wasn't vaudeville. it was about who will be the leader of the country. and perhaps the most infulential leader in the world.

On a more serious note, Ryan looked weak, and on defense.

In spite of the obvious thaetricals and smirking, I'll give it to Joe.

who cares? the majority, overwhelmingly, do not "give it to joe."

Sorry to burst your bubbles (okay, actually I enjoy doing it), but the CNN and other polls show Ryan was the clear winner. He helped his running mate more than Biden helped his. Biden is a bombastic, demagogue, and that makes "Democrats take heart"? What in the hell is the matter with you people?

Do you like high unemployment? High taxes? Soaring gas prices? Spiking food prices? Do enjoy misery? Or are you just plain nuts? I'd really like to know.

Lol, Democrats are happy about that performance?

Two days later and all that anyone is talking about is how weird and obnoxious Biden was as well as his apparent contradictions with the facts on abortion and Libya. Obama is down 5 points on Intrade since the debate began and polling shows no Biden bounce.

And why should it? He may have sucked in the OWS base with that hot mess but he lost the middle utterly.

The ONLY poll showing Biden won the debate was a CBS poll with a Dem +9 sample. Even then almost 200% considered it a draw.

Ryan won the CNN, AP and CNBC polls. He won by double digits on likability.

exactly. but not on planet progressive, where arrogance and rudeness are seen as a show of strength. as if. wait for the fallout on this embarrassment, unless of course it's buried under benghazi-gate.

20% sorry

what planet are you on, punter? biden's unhinged and bizarre behavior, rude, smarmy, a total turnoff, is now (after the dust and the spin of the feckless MSM settle) widely recognized as a mistake, detrimental, having the effect of legitimizing ryan, and in whole a substantive embarrassment. not unlike howard dean's famous moment, this debate features biden as half-cocked lunatic and rude interrupter. man, you are a serious hack to pen this screed given what we all saw.....

Just exactly what are the democrats excited about? Given Biden's revelation of the breakdown in information sharing within the administration, it's apparent the democrats don't care that their wonderful president is either inept, totally detached as president, or involved in a conspiracy to hide the first two, or all three.

Anyway you slice it, the dems are breaking the rules of common decency by not putting forward a viable candidate, known to be honest.

Here is what I thought was really fun about this debate. Ryan had pelnty of chances to appeal to the moderator or to Biden to maintain some sense of decorum during the debate. I think he let it go on purpose. Vice presidential debates do not usually have any impact, but this one will. Biden will forever be remembered as the mean, rude bully. The Dem base may have liked it, but this was a disaster for the ticket.

Why do democrats have ANY standing to criticize Romney and Ryan over a lack of specifics in their plan? At least they have a plan. It may not be completely filled in, but is a plan.

The democrats have NO plan at all. Nada. Zip. No plan to rein in entitlement spending. No plan to balance the budget. No plan to stop the country's slide into bankruptcy. Even Tim Geithner, Obama's Treasury Secretary, concedes the point by saying "It's true - the Obama Administration is not offering a plan to address the budget deficit. But it is also true that we don't like yours" when testifying on Capitol Hill in front of Congress.

So if you don't like the Republican plan, offer one of your own!

Good article Paul. This describes me to a 'T'! I was one despondent Democrat -- now I feel a whole lot better! Way to go Joe -- I wouldn't have changed a thing!

James from http://www.4insure.us

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