Eight days ago Mitt Romney put a jolt into the presidential race when he showed up for a presidential debate while President Barack Obama seemed not to. Since then Romney has surged in the polls, pulling ahead in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. Tonight Vice President Joe Biden squares off against Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the House Budget Committee chairman. Watch the debate and get instant analysis here from U.S. News's Thomas Jefferson Street bloggers.
Clark Judge 10:49: Ryan effectively countered the vice president's attacks. And he was a gentleman. Considering what happened last week, there is a danger of the bottom dropping out for the Democratic ticket.
Mary Kate Cary 10:48: Democrats loved it, Republicans loved it. Ryan held his own and then some—didn't come across as an extremist at all. Democrats probably enjoyed how testy Biden was, but I believe Biden's behavior probably turned off a lot of independents/undecideds. Made me want to turn off the volume when he was talking. I bet I wasn't alone.
Biden seemed to be winging his closing statement, Ryan much better at making the final sale. Overall, though, a draw on substance. Ryan won on style. Biden gave Saturday Night Live a lot of material tonight.
Boris Epshteyn 10:40: Well, that's over. Joe Biden came out firing, but went overboard by interrupting, laughing, and being dismissive toward Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan was strong, convinced, and succinct in his points even as he was piled on by both Joe Biden and, at times, the moderator.
Clark Judge 10:39: Though superficially more balanced than last week's debate, tonight's debate was again a plus for the GOP. Biden was way too hot and irritatingly dismissive of Ryan. He hurt himself and the president. Ryan was in the emotional range that is ideal for a candidate. Additionally, he was better briefed and more cogent.
Boris Epshteyn 10:36: Paul Ryan doing a good job summing up the broken promises of the Obama administration. Joe Biden's best performance has come since his voice has seemingly been lost and energy has waned. Paul Ryan has done much more to make Mitt Romney's case than Joe Biden has for Barack Obama. Pointed contrast—Paul Ryan discusses what Mitt Romney will do as president, Joe Biden chooses to attack Paul Ryan for voting for the same wars he voted for.
Robert Schlesinger 10:32: Well that was more interesting and more fun than eight days ago. There was a heavy emphasis on national security and foreign policy, presumably because that's Raddatz's area of strength. Ryan followed a Zen debate strategy, and was smooth. Biden came out swinging, irking conservatives and heartening progressives. We'll see how it plays with independents.
Robert Schlesinger 10:31: Effective close from Biden hitting Ryan's "takers" and Romney's "47 percent."
Peter Roff 10:28: Anti-taxer Grover G. Norquist apparently tweeting that oddly enough, he never finds a reason to mention Vice President Joe Biden when he's in a televised debate.
Robert Schlesinger 10:21: Ryan blatantly dodges question about whether pro-choicers should worry about a Romney-Ryan administration.
Robert Schlesinger 10:18: My old professor, Middlebury's Matt Dickinson (@Matt Dickinson44): "Ryan thinks this is a debate—Joe understands it is a political show."
Peter Roff 10:18: Vice President Biden's audible grunting during Congressman Ryan's discussion of why he is pro-life is not going to go over well, especially with the Catholic voters who may make the difference between who wins and who loses.
Boris Epshteyn 10:17: Does Joe Biden have an ulterior motive in his over the top performance? Maybe firing up the Dem base for 2016—he has repeatedly declined to state he will not run. If that is the case, he is doing himself a much bigger favor in terms of winning the 2016 primary than he is doing for President Obama remaining president.
Peter Roff 10:11: I'll give Biden points for the late Afghanistan response. Congressman Ryan seemed to be a bit over his head—but recovered quickly in the discussion of what is happening in Syria.
Boris Epshteyn 10:10: On Afghanistan, Biden's points are hurt by the fact that American soldiers keep getting killed in Afghanistan; obviously Afghanis are not able to protect either Americans on the ground or prevent Taliban and terrorists from taking over. Biden still seems overly angry and has stumbled a few times, even on foreign policy. Is he nervous because Obama did so badly?
Robert Schlesinger 10:10: Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish): "Biden's affect is the most important thing tonight. He seems like the elder statesman but also a pitbull."
Robert Schlesinger 10:04: Heavy focus on foreign affairs/national security—Martha Raddatz's area of expertise.
Robert Schlesinger 10:01: It's clear that a big part of the Romney-Ryan debate prep was making sure to give specific real-person examples.
Peter Roff 10:11: Congressman Ryan misses an opportunity in his answer on Afghanistan talk about the continuing threat. He should have cited the brave 14-year-old young lady who, earlier in the week, was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban for daring to say she wanted and deserved to go to school. This is why America went to Afghanistan, to stop the Taliban and its campaign of terror in the first place, and why America matters. We defend the defenseless and the powerless. Vice President Biden apparently just concluded the country should turn its back on people like that young lady and pretend she doesn't exist.
Clark Judge 10:01: Biden way too hot. Mocking smiles and laughs same as Gore sighs in 2000.
Boris Epshteyn 9:58: This debate has gotten out of hand—this cannot be a positive with undecided voters. Not smart for Biden to go after Ryan on mathematics, Ryan obviously has a good grasp. Now the moderator is also condescending toward Paul Ryan, but he is looking strong by putting up with it from both.
Mary Kate Cary 9:57: Round 2: Biden did better on Medicare, Ryan better on the economy, but should have given just one example of a loophole he'd close. Biden's coming across as really rude, laughing weirdly. Maybe it's playing well in the debate hall, but his reaction is too hot for TV. Comes across as out of control. Martha Raddatz is doing very well.
Robert Schlesinger 9:57: Great point from The New Republic's Noam Scheiber (@noamscheiber): "Why would you be specific about lowering rates 20 percent but not offsets. Wouldn't the first part make bipartisan compromise harder too?"
Peter Roff 9:56: The Romney/Ryan team is busy circulating the following talking points:
- According To Ernst & Young, President Obama's Tax Hikes Would Subject Many Business Owners To Higher Taxes And Jeopardize 710,000 Jobs. "Researchers determined the plan would actually subject 2.1 million business owners to higher rates; specifically, those who pay pass-through taxes, like most partnerships, LLCs and S-Corporations. The result, less capital in the hands of business owners and diminished labor supply, would cost the United States an estimated $200 billion in economic output and 710,000 jobs." (The Washington Post, 7/17/12)
- President Obama's Tax Plan Will Increase Taxes On Small Businesses To As High As 41%. "But Mr. Obama is demanding tax increases, not tax cuts, and large increases at that. If the Bush tax rates expire as scheduled on December 31, rates on the top two income brackets will jump to 39.6% from 35%, and 36% from 33%. Add the scheduled return of income phaseouts for exemptions and deductions, and the rates go up another two-percentage points – to at least 41% and 35%." (The Wall Street Journal, 7/9/12)
- President Obama's Tax Plan "Would Hurt Small-Business Job Creators In Particular." "New research, released today by the National Federation of Independent Business, shows that allowing tax relief on the top individual rates to expire will hurt job creation and the economy. The report, published by top accounting firm Ernst & Young, shows raising top individual rates would hurt small-business job creators in particular." (NFIB, Press Release, 7/17/12)
Robert Schlesinger 9:54: Mitt Romney as governor of Massachusetts issued 800 vetoes.
Ron Bonjean 9:53: Biden should wise up. America's problems and solutions to them aren't funny. How do women feel about Biden acting like a sarcastic bully? Sober up.
Robert Schlesinger 9:53: Ryan's full of malarkey, to use Biden's phrase. The studies he claims make the Romney numbers add up aren't studies at all, but op-eds. Independent analysis from the Tax Policy Center showed that it's not mathematically possible. Ryan is speaking form a fantasy world.
Peter Roff 9:53: The Ryan-Sununu social security plan to which the vice president referred earlier guaranteed benefits no worse than the current system. Benefits could only be higher with private accounts. Vice President Biden can't add and doesn't understand economics.
Peter Roff 9:49: A quick check of social media suggests that more people are talking about Vice President Biden's grinning and smirking than about anything else in the debate. That will not help the Obama/Biden ticket slow the Romney/Ryan surge. Ryan, by the way, seems more confident about the GOP tax plan than Biden did about what either the Democrats or the Republicans want to do on taxes.
Robert Schlesinger 9:48: Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato): "Obama stunned by doing so badly. Biden is stunning by doing so well."
Boris Epshteyn 9:46: Joe Biden should stop interrupting Paul Ryan, it is completely unprofessional and makes him seem as if he is eager to get out talking points. The question that is begged is why does Joe Biden dislike Paul Ryan so much?
Peter Roff 9:41: Ryan scores on "they got caught with their hands in the cookie jar" on Medicare and Medicaid. And with his gentle and respectful suggestion that the debate needs more civility. Biden is trying to deliver the performance the liberals wanted Barack Obama to give in his first debate with Mitt Romney. That's a mistake. You can't win today's battle by fighting yesterday's war. Ryan has the data clearly on his side.
Robert Schlesinger 9:39: Biden nails the Medicare question like Raul Ibanez and a fat fastball in the late innings of a close game.
[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]
Peter Roff 9:38: Vice President Joe Biden is at a disadvantage having to go second on the entitlements question. Ryan has the facts. Biden doesn't.
AARP has asked the White House and the Obama campaign to stop claiming they endorsed what the administration did.
Robert Schlesinger 9:38: And on the stimulus, Biden should have pointed out that according to the nonpartisan CBO, the stimulus was responsible for adding as many as 3.3 million jobs. Yeah, I'd say that was money well spent.
Robert Schlesinger 9:37: Biden landing body blows on Ryan asking for stimulus money. By the way I love the forced smiles on both sides.
Boris Epshteyn 9:36: Vice President Biden has been angry since the debate began, the constant laughing and smirking (especially as they talk about Libya, Iran, and economic hardship) is making him appear as if he is losing it.
Paul Ryan appears calmer and more measured. Both candidates have a good handle on the facts so far.
Robert Schlesinger 9:36: Independent analysts say that 12 million jobs will be created over the next four years anyway.
Robert Schlesinger 9:35: Biden strong on the economy. Note how he's harping on responsibility—that's a key word for Democrats in communicating with middle class voters.
Peter Roff 9:34: Ryan scores on "Was it a good idea to spend stimulus money on windmills in China?" Biden ignores the point.
Peter Roff 9:32: Vice President Joe Biden just distorted badly what the federal government did with General Motors. The fact is, as the Government Accountability Office has made clear, what got bailed out was the United Auto Workers union. General Motors is still in jeopardy. Talk to the people who used to work for Delphi who weren't in the union about what the Obama administration did. Not to mention all the hard-working people at the auto dealerships they closed, all the mechanics, car salesmen. Ryan scores points when he schools Biden on what the unemployment rate is in Biden's hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania now—10 percent—and what it was when Obama and Biden came into office—8.5 percent. Ryan, now that he is on domestic policies and the economy, is sounding as strong as the data he is offering. Biden is still talking around the issues in platitudes and economic homilies.
Peter Roff 9:30: Vice President Joe Biden has not exceeded the bad behavior Vice President Al Gore exhibited in his final debate with Gov. George W. Bush in 2000. His clowning, his snickering, his buffoonery are undermining every point he might possible have to make. Congressman Ryan is strong on the argument of the dangers of the spread of nuclear weapons in the region. If the Iranians are being crippled by the sanctions as Biden said, why didn't the Obama administration come to the aid of the Iranian people when they were in the streets two years ago like they did for the Libyans and the Egyptians and the Yemenis and others?
Mary Kate Cary 9:30: Round 1 on foreign policy: Ryan comes across better on the substance. Biden's inappropriate laughing/smiling/body language during discussions about nuclear war, murdered ambassadors, and war in the Middle East is deeply unsettling.
[See a collection of political cartoons on Paul Ryan.]
Robert Schlesinger 9:30: OK Biden needs to cut back on the laughing lest it become his version of Al Gore's sighs.
Boris Epshteyn 9:26: The two candidates have a clear disdain for one another. Vice President Biden is condescending, Paul Ryan coming off as much more likeable so far. Downplaying Iran threat a mistake for Vice President Biden as well as calling China and Russia "all our allies."
Peter Roff 9:24: Vice President Joe Biden has not exceeded the bad behavior Vice President Al Gore exhibited in his final debate with Gov. George W. Bush in 2000. His clowning, his snickering, his buffoonery are undermining every point he might possible have to make. Congressman Ryan is strong on the argument of the dangers of the spread of nuclear weapons in the region. If the Iranians are being crippled by the sanctions as Biden said, why didn't the Obama administration come to the aid of the Iranian people when they were in the streets two years ago like they did for the Libyans and the Egyptians and the Yemenis and others?
Ron Bonjean 9:23: Biden laughing does not come off with the intended effect. It is actually hurting him. Looks very condescending.
Peter Roff 9:21: So by Vice President Biden's logic, the Iranians have nothing, so they have nothing to lose by acquiring a nuclear weapon and perhaps even using it. Also, the way he is talking about "Bibi this" and "Bibi that" makes him vulnerable in the debate aftermath.
Ron Bonjean 9:19: Ryan is rocking foreign policy like he does on economic issues. Biden is losing because he had to first play defense on Libya.
[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]
Robert Schlesinger 9:18: I love Ryan denouncing mixed signals—his running mate serially says one thing (that he would protect people with pre-existing conditions, for example, or that he isn't interested in banning abortion) only to have his press people walk him back shortly thereafter.
Peter Roff 9:17: The cutaways of Biden smiling condescendingly—even laughing—are going to be front and center in tonight's reports. He thinks he's smarter than everyone else. And it shows. Unfortunately, no one likes the smartest kid in the class, especially when he knows that everything everyone else says is wrong and makes sure you know it.
Peter Roff 9:13: Biden just lied. He said that no one asked for more security. From yesterday's hearing before the House Oversight Committee [emphasis mine]:
Exchange between Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan and Eric Nordstrom who served as the State Department's top security official:
Jordan: Mr. Nordstrom, do you think they were ever going to give you what you wanted? What do you think would warrant them saying "You know what, these guys know what they're talking about and we're going to meet their request?"
Nordstrom: "Thank you for asking that question. I actually had that conversation when I came back on leave and for training in February. I was told by the Regional Director for Near Eastern Affairs that there had 'only been one incident involving an American' where he was struck by celebratory fire, it was one of Colonel Wood's employees. The takeaway from that, for me and my staff, it was abundantly clear, we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident. And the question that we would ask is, again, 'How thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through?'"
Ron Bonjean 9:12: Ryan wins on Libya hands down. Measured, confident, but not cocky. Round 1=Ryan.
Peter Roff 9:11: Biden attacks the Romney statement the night of Libya attack as being "panned by the media around the world." Is that the new standard? Are we, the media, the ones who have the final say? Seems to me the vice president has it very, very wrong.
Peter Roff 9:09: Congressman Ryan hits the key point home hard—what happened in Libya was a terrorist attack, something it took the Obama administration two weeks to acknowledge. Split screen on Fox News, the channel I am watching this time, is not helpful to Biden, who does not know how to keep his face straight when he's not talking. Ryan scores a "nice" point by mentioning that Biden's son Beau is a veteran of the conflict in the region, before the vice president can bring it up.
Biden's forte is supposed to be foreign policy. He spoke with more authority but he said far less. Ryan is ahead on substance points, even if he seems a little more shaky on the subject. Biden continuing to grin like the cat who ate the canary is not going to help him.
Robert Schlesinger 9:08: Wow, Ryan with the first Etch A Sketch moment of the debate—they suddenly agree with the Obama administration on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Robert Schlesinger 9:07: Good pivot from Biden on the first question—addressing Libya and then turning to Romney, reminding voters that he hasn't Etch A Sketched back into Moderate Mitt on foreign policy (yet).
Peter Roff 9:06: Biden answers the first question well—except that he avoids taking any responsibility for what we now know to be the long-term screw up in Libya. Talking about Iraq is not the same as talking about Libya. And Biden, in his first answer, plays the bin Laden card. And distorts what Mitt Romney said about what he would do about Osama bin Laden.
Peter Roff 9:04: The stakes tonight are much higher for Vice President Joe Biden, who is much better known, than they are for Rep. Paul Ryan. Biden has much less room to make mistakes and his errors will be more meaningful. Ryan has more latitiude.
Robert Schlesinger 8:56: So what are the stakes tonight? Eight days ago I'd have told you that the vice presidential debate is among the least important events in the campaign season. Perhaps the best remembered single moment, after all, was Lloyd Bentsen schooling Dan Quayle about John F. Kennedy. But Bentsen went back to the Senate while Quayle moved into the Naval Observatory.
But eight days ago I'd have also told you (and did) that presidential debates rarely matter. I was right on the history but 2012 seems intent on going its own way.
Nevertheless, since it took a pair of remarkable presidential debate performances to shake up the race—Mitt Romney's deft, if mendacious A-game and Barack Obama's somnambulant flop—I'm not sure what Joe Biden and Paul Ryan would have to do tonight to make a serious mark in the race. But that, like they say in sports, is why they play the game.