Much like the man in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” who protests that he is, in fact, not dead yet, reports of Mitt Romney’s demise were “greatly exaggerated” before last week’s first Presidential Debate with incumbent Barack Obama. He ended up winning in the eyes of many in the debate, and the poll numbers since then have shown that result has really turned the race around. According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com blog, Obama’s chances of winning the election have dropped from 87.1% on October 4th to 66.1% as of Thursday. Granted, this still gives him a two-thirds majority to win, but with polls showing Florida and Colorado starting to swing toward Romney, that percentage could decline further.
With that as the backdrop, Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican opponent Paul Ryan squared off on Thursday in the first and only debate between the two men in this election cycle. The goal for Biden, if you were to listen to just about any political pundit, was simple: stop the forward progress that Romney was making, and set the stage for next week in order for the President to start to gain some of that ground back in the critical swing states.
Frankly, any expectation that Biden was going to gain ground back by himself was misguided at best and completely stupid at worst. Vice Presidential debates usually can’t do any good for a candidate, but they are fully capable of doing harm to a candidate. Back in 2008, Biden had a field day with Sarah Palin, running laps around her and really hammering home to undecided voters just how unqualified she was to ascend to the Presidency should Republican nominee John McCain pass away while in office. This didn’t give Obama some huge surge in the polls, but it definitely impacted the unfavorable view that voters took of Palin, and that was probably the best case scenario for Democrats heading into the debate tonight.
The more likely strategy, one with a higher shot at success than a complete meltdown by Ryan, was for Biden to fire up the base, and that’s exactly what he did on Thursday. His seeming lack of tact was a two-pronged strategy to the problem at hand. He wanted to not only throw Ryan off his game, thereby making him seem a bit more like Palin than like Dick Cheney, who despite his unsavory appearance connected to voters because of his significant amount of experience in the political realm, but also to get Democrats re-convinced that they were making the right choice in embracing the spirit of hope and change that the 2008 incarnation of the campaign had engendered among supporters. To do that, he had to go on the attack against both Romney and Ryan, and he also needed to provide some serious red meat for liberals to carry into arguments with undecided voters that they encounter. It was a difficult dance that needed to be executed, but if anyone were capable of connecting in such a way that could bridge the enthusiasm gap to a certain extent, it would be Joe Biden.
From a strictly stylistic standpoint, Biden did the job and then some. Whereas the social media world was appalled at the lack of fire that Obama showed last week in Denver, they were rolling laughing as Biden kept running roughshod over Ryan throughout the debate. The performance didn’t do him any favors with moderates, who were undoubtedly turned off by the manner in which he conducted himself, but for liberals and some people disenchanted with both candidates, it had to be a breath of fresh air to see someone really force Ryan to account for the various policy stances that he and his running mate have been taking during the campaign. His combative approach may not have been palatable for everyone, but the likelihood is that the performance wasn’t aimed at undecideds. It was aimed at supporters looking for a pick-me-up after a week of bad news.
With the base sufficiently fired up, the onus is now on Obama to come out and lay down some withering rhetorical firepower on Romney in the next debate. The town hall format doesn’t usually give a good opportunity to go after your opponent directly, but Obama isn’t going to have much of a choice. He treated Romney with kid gloves in the last debate, and while that professorial air does jibe with voter sensibilities when the opponent is a loose cannon without much tact in his approach, Romney came off as more engaged in the first debate, thereby undermining Obama’s strategy. The President is going to have to try to overcome that in order to avoid a similar fate, and all that really hangs in the balance are the swing states that are going to be crucial for the President to win re-election.
We will have to wait and see what happens in the next debate, and in the third debate towards the end of October, but one thing is for certain: Joe Biden laid the groundwork for Obama to reverse Romney’s gains over the last week, but now it’s up to the President to deliver. Whether he’ll be able to or not remains to be seen, but his campaign is dependent on a strong performance on Tuesday.
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Each candidate had their fair share of hits and misses, but for the sake of brevity at the end of a 900 word blog post, I’ll focus on a couple of things that caught my attention.
Joe Biden had an interesting line toward the beginning of the debate when he said that “war should always be the last resort.” Unfortunately for Biden, his record definitely contradicts that policy position that he is taking because of his boss’s well known pacifism. During his time as a US Senator, Biden ended up voting for several conflicts, including the one in Afghanistan in 2001, and more damningly, the war in Iraq in 2003. The latter war was one that a lot of liberals were against, including the President, but Biden went along with President Bush and his march toward war, and that alone renders that statement completely silly.
In addition, there was his claim that the administration had no idea that the US Embassy in Libya had requested more security before the deadly attacks of September 11th of this year that claimed the lives of four Americans, including our ambassador Chris Stevens. Biden made a good point about Ryan voting against $300 million in embassy security in his budget he proposed last year, but then completely ruined it by making his bogus claim about the administration’s ignorance. According to the State Department, the administration DID know about the embassy’s request, and that contradiction needs to be hammered away at by Republicans as they try to cope with the inevitable avalanche of praise for Biden when the news cycle fires up Friday morning.
The one thing that Ryan said that really clipped my begonias was when he said, without irony of course, that he couldn’t understand how Catholics could separate their private lives with their public lives. He said this in the first ever Vice Presidential debate between Catholic candidates, and it flies in the face of what politicians are supposed to do when they swear an oath to uphold the Constitution. Biden said it best when he said that he doesn’t personally support abortion as a matter of faith, but he also doesn’t want to impose that faith upon others.
Ryan’s insistence that Catholics can’t divide the two is demeaning to liberal Catholics everywhere, and really reveals how far into the religious right that this ticket has descended. Thomas Jefferson would roll over in his grave at this egregious assault on the establishment clause in the Constitution.