Gallup is reporting that Mitt Romney has received a five-point bounce from his trouncing of the President in last week’s debate, with the race tied at 47-47. The race is a dead heat, and, just like the MLB playoffs happening in Washington for the first time in decades, every single play now counts.
This week, Vice-President Biden will face Congressman Paul Ryan in the Vice Presidential Debate. Conservatives have been licking their lips for this one ever since Ryan was selected by Governor Romney as his running mate back in early August.
But don’t count Biden out too soon: he has thirty years of experience in the Senate—the most talkative group of people in history—and has run for president a zillion times. His debates with Sarah Palin were a draw, but Biden handily beat Obama and Clinton in the earlier primary debates, back in 2008. He has also another zillion in television appearances and interviews over the past thirty years, and is taking six whole days to prepare to face Ryan.
Don’t get me wrong, though: Paul Ryan will win. He is the sharpest guy in Washington right now, and is one of the most disciplined and focused public speakers I’ve ever seen. Nobody stays on message like this guy. Biden will throw the kitchen sink at him—spurious factoids, equally doubtful anecdotes about people in swing states, farfetched Scranton aphorisms, and pure campaign spin—and Ryan should not be tempted to try to catch everything. One of the things Romney did best in the first debate was respond to criticism: the President didn’t know what to do, and so he kept repeating the same debunked nonsense (five trillion, five trillion, five trillion).
Ryan’s focus will be a great opportunity to speak directly to the American people without spin. This was largely a missed opportunity during the Republican National Convention, because of the Ministry of Truth’s frenzied response to Ryan’s speech, which was to call him a liar, which is a lie.
No doubt they will employ these same rationalizations, these same defense mechanisms this time too. One good way to measure the effectiveness of a politician is the reaction of his enemies. Chris Matthews’ mouth-frothing word salad nervous breakdown following the debate was a good sign that Romney had won in a blowout; I’ll be watching him intently on Thursday night.
Biden’s biggest weakness, apart from being the Yogi Berra of American politics—a Hall of Famer in terms of success, but a man whose foot is lodged in his esophagus—is the same as Obama’s and Al Gore’s: they’re at their best when they’re in a friendly crowd. Compare the Barack Obama of the debate to the Barack Obama the following morning in front of a rabid left-wing crowd in Colorado. They’re as different from each other as they are from the Barack Obama of the Selma speech and the Hampton College speech. Obama is most comfortable doing his Hugo Chavez impression in front of adoring college students and Hollywood celebrities; he melts when confronted by opposition, and, from how few press conferences he’s done this year (2), he feels the same way about questions.
Biden’s trademark, increasingly, is to shout at his audience. What he shouts can be incoherent garble, such as “they don’t understand us!” or “I can dream as much as any rich man can!” It doesn’t have to make sense or be relevant to the election to become the habit of a demagogue. When there are no dragons to slay, one must tilt at windmills to seem brave.
How will this Biden fare on a quiet stage across from a mild-mannered, self-effacing Midwesterner? It’s hard to fight a straw man when there’s flesh and blood right across from you.
Ryan will prove to be not only a bold choice by Mitt Romney, but evidence of Governor Romney’s wise judgment. Had he not chosen Ryan, Ryan would be the bogeyman he is on the Left for the entire country. But now, with the country seeing Paul Ryan, hearing him speak directly to them, he is harder to slander.
Ryan will win, but it won’t be the blowout that conservatives are giddy for. Biden is preparing hard, and Ryan has never debated on this stage before. Ryan is a Congressman representing a tiny Midwestern district; this is a big jump for him.
I predict another 1-point bounce for Romney after Thursday night.