Published for National Review’s ‘The Corner’, October 12, 2012
I think both candidates basically did what they needed to do in the vice-presidential debate, which leaves the Republican ticket in a slightly better position—since Biden’s goal was damage control with the base and Ryan’s was reinforcing a positive impression with persuadable voters.
After the calamity they experienced in last week’s presidential debate, liberals needed to be bucked up by the Obama campaign, and I think they got that tonight. It probably came at a real cost—I have a feeling that Biden’s hyper-aggressive and at times buffoonish performance (and perhaps especially his Joker grin, which seemed to me as much a product of nervousness as of intent) hurt the ticket some with independent voters and especially with women—but it was a price the Obama campaign is probably quite willing to pay given the situation they’re now in. This debate didn’t help them win persuadable voters, and it probably won’t move the polls in their direction, but it will calm liberals down and it was absolutely essential for them to do that. The MSNBC types needed someone to be a jerk toward Paul Ryan to his face, and they got it.
Biden gave them what they needed by behaving the way liberals think Mitt Romney behaved in last week’s debate—basically like a strident bully who just says whatever he needs to say to shut down his opponent. The Left wished Obama had done that, and now they got to see Biden doing it. The trouble for them is that Romney didn’t actually do that. He won by appealing to moderate voters through substantive arguments. Biden (and therefore Obama) won’t gain that appeal from this debate.