Biden's Advantage in Tonight's Debate
Joe Biden has a serious of advantages in tonight's debate. Paul Ryan is very good, but those expecting a "slam dunk" by Ryan could be surprised and also are likely to be pro-Ryan regardless.
1) Biden is viewed as a buffoon of sorts, gaffe inflicted, by his opponents. So if he makes a gaffe, everybody is likely to already have factored it in. What a dream position for a debater: expectations have factored in a mistake.
2) Biden held his own with Sarah Palin. Palin has indisputable charisma. She's attractive and full of energy. She was new at the time, new and interesting. And a female, feminine but aggressive which is very challenging for a male to debate without seeming inappropriate (condescending or bullying). And, to put it in as nice a way as possible, she wasn't the most in-depth issue person ever to run for Vice-President. Given Biden's biggest failing - acting pompous and condescending - he did amazingly well. So well, most do not remember details. Then it became Obama on McCain, which was no match.
3) Biden is an "old school" politician - back-slapping, exaggerating, beer drinking, smiling, demagogic, magnetic in person but less so on TV. Obama is the cool professor, the internationalist. Joe Biden is the pretend coal miner. (Look that up if you didn't understand.) Biden is a key to Ohio, holding Michigan and Pennsylvania, and helping in other key states like Wisconsin. He's the guy you send in to meet with automakers, veterans, coal miners, and ward healers. So tonight, if he can win back some of them - heavily male gun owners, more Catholic than not, pro-American tough guys who aren't sure Obama isn't a nut - then he accomplished a key goal.
4) Biden will try to push Ryan off a cliff. He will josh him, mock him, repeat false "facts" over and over, and misquote Ryan repeatedly. His primary goal if to force Ryan into a mistake.
Ryan's goals are much more difficult:
1) Stay cool. Do not let Biden rile you up. (Biden can rile up almost anyone committed to facts.) If Ryan gets too intense, or starts to lecture & get condescending himself then Biden the way-underestimated skilled politician will appear - he will smile, hit again and again, and again, smiling all the way. "Now, Paul, I know you hate the truth but this is the true fact." "Paul, as your hero Ronald Reagan once said - 'facts are stubborn things'." "Paul, I know that like Mr. Romney, you want to run away from what you've said in the past, you did, in fact say ...." Ryan needs to stay cool through the barrage.
2) Ryan needs to talk to the people, not Biden. He will need to explain the Republican budget in broad terms, the risk of the debt (tie into Spain, the collapse of Europe, how Obama is making us like Europe).
3) Ryan has a great change to explain some fundamentals of capitalism. Seldom is there such a need and an opportunity to explain to the American people the crisis we face. It must be done. Make it clear that it can't be avoided. How easy it is for politicians to duck and avoid telling voters the hard truth.
4) Be ready with some simple comebacks to 47% and Medicare. Biden might be relentless. Make sure you have a good memorable line, with some humor if possible. And then take it to Obama for refusing to save Medicare and pandering.
5) Don't make it about Biden, or Obama-Biden. It is about the President, not the Vice-Presidents.
For Democrats, the goal is to make Republicans seem extreme who want to cut benefits on Medicare, student loans, vets, highways, etc. They want to use Ryan to get to Romney.
For Republicans, Biden is irrelevant. Ryan needs to set up Romney on defense and offense on economic issues, and not become an issue himself. Veeps are irrelevant. When they become an issue, it is always - always - bad for the Presidential candidate. If they do well, it reduces the Presidential candidate. If they do poorly, it hurts the Presidential candidate. And there is one other version - when the VP candidate thinks it is about the VP candidate. My friend Jack Kemp made that mistake. Sarah Palin came close. Paul Ryan, a potential future candidate himself, has done well this time focusing on Romney. Tonight isn't about who is going to represent the US at international funerals and be the President's private advisor/potential next guy: it is about who should be President of the United States of America.
Personal note: I know both candidates. I have known Paul since we were both US Senate staffers. I was aligned with Paul in many fights. But, even with his sometimes arrogant ways, I also liked Joe Biden. We worked on narcotics issues together. He actually gave me the kindest, and longest, introduction at a press conference that I ever had. Then suddenly turned and said: "Mark, I hope I didn't just hurt you back home." Don't underestimate him. But Biden is also capable of self-destruction in a big way but I believe the biggest risk is for Ryan, who is mostly unknown. Fortunately, Paul is one of the smartest guys in American politics. I am betting on him long term, but this is a high risk start.