Ryan-Biden debate could be trouble
Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Oct 11, 2012; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A
Ryan-Biden debate could be trouble
Ryan needs to focus on Obama failures
After President Barack Obama’s terrible debate performance, comedian Dennis Miller looked ahead to the vice presidential debate and posted on Twitter, “Imagine having Joe Biden as a firewall.”
If the Obama campaign staff were honest, they would probably agree that having Biden as the next spokesman for the administration during a nationally televised debate would not be their first choice. After all, we are not talking about Marc Antony on the steps on the Capitol. We are talking about the guy who told a wheelchair-bound state senator from Missouri to stand up so everybody could see him.
Obama’s selection of Biden four years ago to lend gravitas to the campaign was an indictment of the relative bench strength of the Democratic Party nationally.
This election cycle, the Daily Caller has reported that Democrats are limiting Biden’s public appearances for fear that he will say something to hurt the campaign. The strategy did not stop Biden from saying that the middle class was “buried” in the economy of the last four years.
But tonight, there will be nowhere for Biden to hide. He will be on live television in front of millions of Americans, and he will have to do better than his boss.
Across from Biden will be Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the Republican candidate for vice president. Unlike former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin four years ago, Ryan eats, breathes, lives the numbers that make the federal government run.
Most analysts are expecting Ryan to have a pretty good performance tonight. Ryan is known for his ability to go toe-to-toe with Obama in health care and budget debates and end up the clear winner.
Regardless of what we think of Obama’s public speaking skills, he is far better at public speaking than Biden. Another disastrous debate performance by the Obama administration and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s “bump” in the polls from the last debate could turn into a solid lead.
That said, tonight does have its potential for danger for Ryan.
Normally when a challenger appears on a debate stage with an incumbent, that alone is a boost to the challenger’s campaign. When the challenger and the incumbent are on equal footing, it allows the public to see them as equals.
However, in a vice presidential debate, the challenger has a slight disadvantage. Ryan will have to defend on many fronts at once while still attacking the Obama-Biden record.
Ryan will have to defend his own record. He will have to defend Romney’s record. And he will also have to defend the differences in opinion between him and Romney.
Biden, on the other hand, is free to go on the attack on all of those fronts. He only has to defend the Obama administration, admittedly a very difficult job in these times.
It is the traditional role of the vice presidential candidate to be the attack dog of the campaign. Sen. Bob Dole went a little too far in 1976 when he attributed all of the wars this country has fought to the Democratic Party. The late Jack Kemp, Dole’s running mate in 1996 and Ryan’s mentor, had the opposite problem and did not go on the attack enough.
Biden could attack the Romney-Ryan campaign on the auto bailout, which Ryan supported but Romney did not. Biden could attack on the Massachusetts health care law, which Romney signed into law but it runs contrary to Ryan’s views of government.
Ryan will have to keep the focus where it belongs, on the failures of the last four years. If he can keep the focus on the jobless economy and the runaway government spending imperiling future economic growth, Ryan can win the debate without having to count on a gaffe by Biden. Any rhetorical mistake by Biden would be a bonus, not a requirement for victory.
On the other hand, if Biden can hold his ground, match Ryan’s mastery of details, put Ryan on the defensive, and not make any errors, Biden’s debate performance could restore the momentum to the Democrats.
OK, I almost wrote that last part with a straight face.