Partisans were pleased with their VP candidates after Thursday night’s debate. But while Joe Biden fired up his base by attacking and interrupting Paul Ryan, the vice president made his mouth the big issue.
In comedy and talk shows, Biden will become a punch line — the cranky old pol. His fans will argue he was more forceful and real but, like Al Gore’s sighs in one debate, Biden’s inappropriate laughing and rudeness will be what’s long remembered.
This tweet last night is an example:
— Just Karl (@justkarl) October 12, 2012
I’m beginning to comprehend the Obama-Biden campaign’s good cop-insane cop strategy.
— Molly Ball (@mollyesque) October 12, 2012
Movie critic Roger Ebert tweeted this during the debate:
Biden smiing when nothing is funny. #vpdebate
— Roger Ebert (@ebertchicago) October 12, 2012
At times Biden even seemed to scold the moderator, the impressive Martha Raddatz.
Sometimes in politics style is thought to reveal substance — when it raises doubts about character and the ability of a leader to communicate.
A CNN poll of debate viewers found that 48 percent thought Paul Ryan won, while 44 percent gave it to Joe Biden. But it was Ryan over Biden on “who was more likable?” that told the story: Ryan 53 percent, Biden 43 percent.
Other CNN poll results:
Half of all debate watchers questioned in the poll said the showdown didn’t make them more likely to vote for either of the candidates’ bosses, 28% said the debate made them more likely to vote for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and 21% said the faceoff made them more likely to vote to re-elect President Barack Obama.
By a 50%-41% margin, debate watchers say that Ryan rather than Biden better expressed himself.
Seven in ten said Biden was seen as spending more time attacking his opponent, and that may be a contributing factor in Ryan’s 53%-43% advantage on being more likable. Ryan also had a slight advantage on being more in touch with the problems of average Americans.
One of the top jobs for the candidates in a vice presidential debate is to convince Americans that they would be able to step into the top job if something happened to the president. The poll indicates that both men were seen as qualified to be president if necessary, by roughly equal numbers.
If you only scored the debate on what was said, it was a draw. But this was a TV debate. People watched both candidates on the split screen and they were judging them at all times by how they acted and reacted. So when Biden was grinning broadly while Ryan talked about tragedy in the Middle East, people saw that he was acting inappropriately and wondered whether everything was political to this lifetime pol. He was disrespectful.
Biden was also disrespectful in constantly interrupting his opponent, probably more than any candidate in the history of televised debate. Rudeness isn’t a sin, but it’s a turnoff — especially to people, like undecided voters, who don’t already agree with you.
Still, that kind of aggression was what Democrats wanted after President Obama let them down in his debate with Mitt Romney. And they will argue that Biden won on debating points, if not personality points. They will feel newly energized and hope that Obama will attack just as much in Tuesday’s debate.
Of course, people don’t vote for president based on the VP candidates. So whether Biden devolves in image from gaffer to laugher shouldn’t matter much.
But what might trouble Democratic strategists is that the main themes in the VP debate didn’t help set up Obama for Tuesday’s debate.
Compare their closing remarks. Who better framed the choice for undecided voters?
The fact is that we’re in a situation where we inherited a god-awful circumstance. People are in real trouble. We acted to move to bring relief to the people who need the most help now.
And — and in the process, we — in case you haven’t noticed, we have strong disagreements. But I — you probably detected my frustration with their attitude about the — the American people. My friend says that 30 percent of the American people are takers. They — Romney points out, 47 percent of the people won’t take responsibility. He’s talking about my mother and father. And he’s talking about the places I grew up in, my neighbors in Scranton and Claymont.
He’s talking about — he’s talking about the people that have built this country. All they’re looking for, Martha — all they’re looking for is an even shot. When they’ve been given the shot, they’ve done it. They’ve done it. Whenever you level the playing field, they’ve been able to move.
And they want a little bit of peace of mind. And the president and I are not going to rest until that playing field is leveled, they in fact have a clear shot and they have peace of mind, until they can turn to their kid and say with a degree of confidence, honey, it’s going to be OK. It’s going to be OK. That’s what this is all about.
We face a very big choice. What kind of country are we going to be? What kind of country are we going to give our kids? President Obama — he had his chance. He made his choices. His economic agenda, more spending, more borrowing, higher taxes, a government takeover of health care — it’s not working. It’s failed to create the jobs we need. Twenty-three million Americans are struggling for work today. Fifteen percent of Americans are in poverty.
This is not what a real recovery looks like. You deserve better. Mitt Romney and I want to earn your support. We’re offering real reforms for a real recovery for every American. Mitt Romney, his experience, his ideas, his solutions, is uniquely qualified to get this job done. At a time when we have a jobs crisis in America, wouldn’t it be nice to have a job creator in the White House?
The choice is clear: a stagnant economy that promotes more government dependency, or a dynamic, growing economy that promotes opportunity and jobs. Mitt Romney and I will not duck the tough issues.
We will take responsibility. And we will not try to replace our founding principles; we will reapply our founding principles. The choice is clear, and the choice rests with you, and we ask you for your vote.
Partisans will debate who won the debate until we have Tuesday’s presidential debate. Regardless, Thursday’s debate raised expectations and pressures for Obama and Romney. You can bet that both will be aware at all times that they’re being viewed in split screen.
Todd Domke is WBUR’s Republican analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.
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