Charming Paul Ryan Aced Angry Joe Biden

The vice president's smirks and eye rolls reminded viewers why they don't like him, and didn't change the trajectory of the race.

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Vice President Joe Biden answers a question during the vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky.

A lot of people like Joe Biden. The problem is that a lot more people don't like Joe Biden. He came into last night's debate with high unfavorability ratings—51 percent of those polled viewed him unfavorably compared to 39 percent favorably, according to Pew. That's why for the last few months, the Obama campaign has been sending Biden to campaign only with "safe" Democratic audiences, such as AARPers, union members, and campaign supporters. He's good at firing up the liberal base, just like he did last night. 

What Joe Biden's not good at is getting Republican-leaning independents to cross over to President Barack Obama. On the other hand, Paul Ryan has been re-elected seven times in his heavily Democratic district in Wisconsin, a heavily Democratic state. He's used to convincing Democrats and independents to vote for him, and he does it by making a great case for reform and by doing with it with charm. He doesn't come across as the "extremist" that the other side makes him out to be. People who didn't know Paul Ryan before last night came away liking him. A CNN post-debate poll of likely voters had Ryan winning by four points, despite the "draw" that all the pundits were declaring. Last week, the number of people who thought Romney won continued to grow over the next few days.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

Biden's constant interruptions, smirks, and eye-rolling grimaces backfired on a number of levels. First, he reminded the majority of people who don't like Biden that they have good reason to feel that way. The split-screen image on television—and the 80 to 100 interruptions—really didn't play well for Biden, especially with the women I've talked to today. That's exactly the crowd that Paul Ryan was trying to win over. And those women will continue to see those images on late-night shows and Saturday Night Live this weekend. Not good.

Second, he confirmed for voters the level of incivility in Washington under the current administration. Think about it: if the president is re-elected, do you think Vice President Biden would be happy to work with Paul Ryan and the Republicans in Congress, based on what you saw last night? No way. He was disrespectful and contemptuous of everyone on the other side of the aisle. If the Democrats win, here comes more gridlock.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

And while Biden may have helped disillusioned Democrats feel better about their candidate, last night's debate did not change the trajectory of the race. Over the last week, the momentum in the president race shifted dramatically.  Real Clear Politics moved five swing states that were leaning Obama into the "toss-up" column this week, and Romney closed the polling gap in 11 swing states. Ryan's performance confirmed for independents that he can handle being vice president, but Biden's rantings did nothing to get those independents to vote Democratic.

Finally, the Biden playbook last night gave us a sneak peak at next week's debate strategy. After the presidential debate, Obama regretted being "too polite" to Romney. Last night, he said he "couldn't have been prouder" of Biden. That tells us all we need to know: The president liked what he saw. Get ready for the Democrats to get even uglier at the next debate.

  • Read Peter Fenn: Has the Electoral College Outlived Its Usefulness?
  • Read Clark Judge: Joe Biden Looked Like a Deranged Bully in the Debate
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