Following President Barack Obama’s assertion that he lost the first Presidential debate to Republican Mitt Romney because he was too polite, it appears as though the Democratic Party told Joe Biden that he needed to carry a decidedly “no more Mister Nice Guy” attitude to the Vice Presidential debate on Thursday.
A few dozen snickers, interruptions and condescending “look here, little boy” moments directed at Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan later, and Biden succeeded at one thing during the debate: emboldening Democratic voters. Despite Biden’s lively performance, Ryan offered a portrait of someone who could calmly defend Romney’s proposals and firmly point out where the Obama Administration has failed, appealing to Republicans and undecided voters alike.
Biden, famous for his foot-in-mouth moments, likely left many people watching the event in hopes of catching one of the Vice President’s verbal missteps disappointed; the gaffe-prone politico managed to keep his comments clean. Ryan was also able to avoid any verbal missteps, and pundits appear to agree that his first nationally televised debate performance was a resounding success.
“I know you’re under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground,” Ryan said to Biden at one point referencing the President’s poor debate performance last week as the reason the Vice President rudely interrupted him during the showdown.
When Biden attempted to take a cheap shot at the Republican ticket by bringing up Romney’s now infamous “47 percent” remarks, Ryan downplayed the controversy and issued a scathing rebuke of his opponent saying: “As the Vice President very well knows, the words don’t always come out of your mouth the right way.”
Though debate moderator ABC News foreign correspondent Martha Raddatz attempted to coax specificity from both candidates, they largely stuck to party line talking points throughout the night. What did come as a surprise to many pundits watching the debate was the candidates’ heavy focus on foreign policy. The Obama Administration has attempted to avoid the topic in recent weeks in the wake of disastrous Afghan attacks on U.S. soldiers and the terrorist assault on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“What we are watching on our TV screens is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy, which is making the world more chaotic and us less safe,” Ryan said, seizing the issues to reinforce a Romney assertion that Obama foreign policy is making the United States a weak world power.
Criticizing the Obama Administration on the Libya attacks, Ryan issued a handful of critiques on Obama foreign policy that Biden could do little to defend.
“It took the President two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack,” Ryan said.
“Look, if we’re hit by terrorists, we’re going to call it for what it is: a terrorist attack. Our ambassador in Paris has a Marine detachment guarding him. Shouldn’t we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi, a place where we knew that there was an al-Qaida cell with arms?” he went on.
The Vice President’s rebuttal admitted foreign policy mistakes while making promises for the future.
“I can make absolutely two commitments to you and all the American people tonight. One, we will find and bring to justice the men who did this. And secondly, we will get to the bottom of it; and whatever – wherever the facts lead us, wherever they lead us, we will make clear to the American public, because whatever mistakes were made will not be made again,” Biden said.
In discussing a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014, Biden declared that the Obama Administration would stick to the schedule no matter what and said that the Afghans would fulfill their responsibility to providing proper security in the country until the U.S. military leaves.
“We are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. And in the process we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion,” Biden said.
Ryan was less willing to call 2014 a concrete withdrawal date, saying that it was imperative that the United States not lose gains made over the past decade in the region by leaving too hastily.
Biden attempted to capitalize on American weariness about further Mideast conflict by painting the Romney/Ryan foreign policy plan as a hawkish guarantee of more ground wars in the region in coming years. He accused the Republicans of loose talk with regard to Syria and said that Republicans would put the country’s dictator, Bashar Assad, in a position that made U.S. conflict with the nation unavoidable.
Ryan denied that there were plans to put American forces in Syria to stabilize the nation, but doubled down on tough talk about the dangers of allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapon capabilities. He said that the Obama Administration’s sanctions on the country have been too weak and put the Iranians four years closer to their goal of nuclear armament.
When pressed by Raddatz for a precise plan to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat, Ryan was largely mum. Political pundits speculate that the candidate’s silence was likely necessary to avoid an answer that would be unpopular with Americans tired of fighting in the Mideast: a military attack on Iranian nuclear sites.
When the candidates talked about the defense budget, Ryan denied the much-publicized claim that a Romney Administration would add $2 trillion to the military budget over the course of the next decade (which the Romney Budget does advocate). Ryan said, however, that Romney would simply not allow the kind of automatic military spending cuts for which the Obama Administration was prepared.
Biden rebutted that the military Joint Chiefs of Staff had no issue with the cuts and were in fact “in favor of a smaller, leaner military.”
The Vice President capitalized on criticism from economic policy wonks who say the Romney/Ryan budget proposals contain math that doesn’t exactly add up.
Ryan said that the Romney tax plan closes enough loopholes in the tax code to provide for an across-the-board tax cut for Americans. He attempted to drive home the point that the Obama/Biden plan would raise taxes on the middle class and small businesses making more than $250,000 a year.
“There aren’t enough rich people and small businesses to tax to pay for their spending,” he said. “Watch out, middle class. The tax bill’s coming for you.”
Biden protested that the Romney plan was “not mathematically possible.” In defense, Ryan invoked John F. Kennedy’s tax plan, which accomplished some of the things that the Romney/Ryan plan would if implemented.
Ending the exchange, Biden used a debate trick and interrupted Ryan with the quip: “Oh. Now you’re Jack Kennedy.”
For what it lacked in specific answers, the Vice Presidential debate made up for in vitriol with the two men constantly at the throats of one another’s policy. Following the event, polls indicated something of a tie in the debate with preference for the candidates split mostly along party lines.
In a CNN poll following the debate, 48 percent of respondents said Ryan won; 44 percent chose Biden. A poll by CBS claimed Biden had 50 percent preference and Ryan 31 percent.
Pundits say the debate and following polling results indicate that the election is becoming more and more a Presidential horse race that will likely boil down to a photo finish.