This column appeared originally in THE DAILY BEAST.
In his feeble, distracted debate performance against Mitt Romney, President Obama all but ignored the major Democratic lines of attack against the Republican nominee, forcing Joe Biden to consider an effort to renew those forgotten narratives when the vice-presidential candidates face one another Thursday night.
Team Obama has spent hundreds of millions of dollars (and placed nearly three times the number of attack ads as the Romney campaign) to advance three core criticisms of the GOP nominee:
• He is a privileged plutocrat who can’t relate to ordinary people.
• He is an unprincipled flip-flopper who switches positions for political advantage.
• He’s a shady Wall Streeter whose still-secret tax returns undoubtedly conceal damning revelations of job-killing abuses.
The president of the United States never probed any of these perceived vulnerabilities in the debate, keeping their exchanges relatively high-minded, occasionally professorial, and, to a surprising extent, nonconfrontational. The Obama inner circle—or, very possibly, the president himself—apparently decided it might look demeaning, undignified, nasty, and unpresidential to slam Romney’s character in the rock-’em, sock-’em, go-for-the jugular style of notorious TV ads from various pro-Obama super PACs. As a result, their candidate fought the first debate on Romney’s battlefield of choice, talking about the hard-times economy and Mitt’s proposed solutions rather than focusing any attention at all on the GOP nominee’s alleged character flaws.
With a perceived shift in momentum in the overall campaign and the universal conclusion that Romney prevailed in the first televised encounter of the debate season, Joe Biden will feel considerable pressure to take up the cudgels and go after the GOP-ticket hammer and claw when he takes on Paul Ryan on Oct. 11.
The Obama high command may well push the vice president to ignore or patronize the youthful Wisconsin congressman standing on the stage beside him and instead concentrate his fire on the absent presidential nominee, who, of course, won’t be able to defend himself. Biden could even try a few lines praising Representative Ryan by contrasting him with the evil Romney. For instance, “I like Paul Ryan; he’s a fine young man,” the avuncular veep could intone. “And I think he’s sincere about the extremist positions he holds—unlike his running mate, Mitt Romney, who’s not sincere about anything and changes his positions more often than he changes his millionaire’s silk underwear.”
A full-throated Biden attack on Romney (not Ryan), no matter how tasteless or baseless, would bring the Democrats several advantages: