Vice Presidential Debate: Recap and Analysis

Though few would have predicted it two weeks ago, going into tonight’s Vice-Presidential debate the real pressure to perform was squarely on the shoulders of Joe Biden.  This prospect was clearly one that Republicans across the Country have been giddy about in the days leading up to this debate—but tonight the meltdown they were hoping for didn’t happen.  Joe Biden performed well, avoided any big gaffes, and the two candidates essentially dueled to a near draw.

Paul Ryan (Justin Arnold)

As mentioned in our prior debate analysis, we focus on themes because they are the messages that each candidate comes in with for a reason.  These are the issues and messages they have determined will move the needle in their favor and each candidates ability to skillfully drive these themes home, more often than not, determines the success or failure of their performance.


Due to the more direct question and answer format of this debate, solidly landing on his themes was somewhat of a problem for Congressmen Ryan and I felt Biden did a better job in this area.  That said, Ryan’s three most consistently hit on points were:

1)  “This is not what a real recovery looks like” —This message could be summarized as ‘The President has had four years, made his choices, and we are still moving in the wrong direction’.  I felt Ryan’s biggest scores of the night were hammering on the point that the GDP number has been lower in each of the last three quarters.  It’s just impossible to refute these numbers and they don’t match up with the administrations narrative of a recovery in progress.

2)  Mitt Romney is “uniquely qualified” to solve our Country’s current problems—This phrase was uttered by Ryan three times, and most effectively in his closing statement when he followed it by saying, “since we are facing a jobs crisis wouldn’t it be nice to have a job creator in the White House?”.

3)  On Foreign Policy: Projecting weakness in international affairs causes our enemies to be further emboldened and, ultimately, causes the U.S and the rest of the world to be in more danger—There is no question that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are “peace through strength” guys.

Ryan’s 3 Best Lines

1)  On Medicare reform—“We would rather have 50 million future seniors determine how their Medicare is delivered to them instead of 15 bureaucrats deciding what, if, where, and when they get it.”

2)  Said directly to Biden—“Do you know what the unemployment rate is in Scranton (Biden’s hometown) right now?…it’s 10%.  Do you know what it was the day you guys came into office?…it was 8.5%.”

3)  Regarding Romney’s secretly recorded conversion talking about the “47%” —“I think the Vice President very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way”.  To which Biden quickly and awesomely responded, “But I always mean what I say…and so does Romney”.

Joe Biden (Art Smith)

Last night’s Vice-Presidential Debate (heavily touted as “the first and only”) was a great opportunity for Joe Biden to make up lost ground after the President’s less than aggressive performance last week. Joe was clearly comfortable in this position, and frankly after nearly 40 years in public office, this is probably an area that he will be considerably stronger than Barack Obama, and Paul Ryan. He really showed significant authority in discussing foreign policy issues, especially with regard to the Middle East conflicts.

Throughout the evening, Joe took to the attack on issues when responding to direct questions from the moderator, and even in some responses from Ryan. Biden was much weaker when reacting to criticisms and challenges from Ryan, especially early in the debate, resorting to alternating reactions of laughter, surprise and shock, and often interrupting Ryan with contradicting statements. But even in what one could intellectually consider a weak reaction, many would have seen him as simply keeping things light while discussing deep technical policy issues.

Biden went to great lengths not to call Ryan a liar. The difference between the two sets of candidates was significantly clearer than they were in the first Presidential debate. Biden also took every opportunity to refer to Paul as his “friend”.


Biden’s themes were very consistent with his typical stump speeches of late:

1. Romney/Ryan will subject seniors to significant ($6,500+ per year) financial burdens in Medicare by implementing vouchers.

2. Romney/Ryan will privatize Social Security, which will put seniors money at unnecessary risk.

3. Romney/Ryan will turn the clock back and take away a woman’s right to an abortion.

4. The President has made no errors in dealing with foreign affairs, and any blame for challenges belong to Republicans, and the Intelligence Community.

5. The President’s successes have been in spite of Republican attempts to thwart his work. “This is a guy [Obama] who has done everything he said he was going to do”.

In a nutshell, “President Obama is perfect, and Romney/Ryan should scare you to death.” Biden’s ability to portray Republicans as scary and misguided is truly artful, and combined with his ability to present his party’s position in terms that are easy to understand and process, he is one of the strongest assets Democrats have.

Biden’s one and only moment to truly put a personal face on who he is came up with the question of his faith and abortion. He stated that because the Church teaches that life begins at conception, that’s what he believes. But he simply puts that assessment into a “religion” box and refuses to force others to conform to that idea. It was intriguing that he was willing to state his belief in Catholic teaching.

Biden also won a major “gotcha”. While Paul Ryan was criticizing the Stimulus package, the Vice President brought up the fact that the Congressman requested some of that stimulus money for two of his constituents. Ryan really wasn’t prepared to answer that one, and frankly Ryan came out of that looking hypocritical. For those focused on character, this moment may have swayed some toward the Democrats.

Biden’s 2 Best Lines

1) “The most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions” while discussing the use of sanctions to keep Iran from building a nuclear weapon,

2) “The last thing America needs is to get into another ground war in the Middle East” while discussing the civil war in Syria.

Justin’s Summary

In my view this debate squarely fits the classic definition of a draw.  If I was forced to pick a winner I would say Biden, just by a nose—and clearly not by enough to make a difference in the race.  The reason I believe this is that he was more emphatic than Ryan when making a majority of his points.  Though Biden interrupted way too much and was at times borderline rude, many undecided voters are in the dark on the issues being argued and a emphatic and confident delivery goes a long way.

Two things really stood out to me as “sign of the times” moments.  One was both men absolutely agreed we need to leave Afghanistan in 2014, and more significantly that the following exchange happened in a nationally televised Vice-Presidential debate (and it wasn’t a gaffe):

Moderator – “Will benefits under these programs (Medicare and Social Security) have to change for the programs to survive?”

Paul Ryan – “Absolutely.  Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt.”

It’s safe to say we have come a long way in this Country on being able to politically acknowledge our problems—and this offers hope we can successfully address them in the near future.

Though I do feel it was a pure draw, and give Biden the edge theatrically, the fact that much of the debate consisted of both candidates speaking about how bad the economy is and how the middle-class has been decimated is not good for the incumbent ticket.

Art’s Summary

If you came to this party hoping to see a repeat of the first Presidential debate, you would have been disappointed. Joe Biden successfully made up for what many have considered a lackluster performance on the part of the President. Paul Ryan was energetic, but excessively detailed in many of his answers. On general appearance, Biden was clearly the winner. On content and solutions, Paul Ryan maintained the momentum, staying on point even when Biden simply dismissed him in response.







About the Authors

Mr. Arnold is a long time constitutional conservative. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Literature from the University of Iowa. Over the last few years he has been involved in numerous political campaigns, most recently serving as campaign manager for an Iowa House candidate and serving as a city chair for Tom Latham. He is self-employed, running a small business in Ankeny, Iowa where he resides with his wife.


Mr. Smith is the Publisher of The Conservative Reader. He is Partner/Owner of Ambrosia Web Technology as well as a Systems Architect for Wells Fargo. Art hold a degree in Computer Science from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and is a political blogger at the Des Moines Register. Art's views are purely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wells Fargo.

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