Smug, supercilious Joe Biden dominated last night’s candidate debate.
Biden came to rumble; he came to bully; he came to intimidate Paul Ryan into submission.
Apparently, the Obama election campaign decided that since Obama had done a Casper Milquetoast impersonation at his first debate, Biden had to compensate.
Biden’s job was to show the world that the Democratic Party was the party of real men, or a reasonable facsimile of same.
Unfortunately, dominating is not the same as winning. Whatever the strength of his arguments Biden came across to all but the most diehard Democrats as insufferably boorish.
He did not look like an alpha male. He looked like a cheap imitation. He looked like what men look like when they buy into the nonsense about the end of men. In the end he will make Mitt Romney look like more of an alpha male.
Biden overcompensated. Hostile and aggressive, he tried to shut down discussion by the force of his attention-grabbing personality.
If there had been any substance to his arguments, it was drowned in his persona.
I suspect that Frank Bruni is not a Romney supporter. Thus, his excellent description of Biden gains a special credibility:
Seldom has a split screen yielded such vigorous facial calisthenics. When Ryan talked, Biden didn’t just listen. He smiled with disbelief. He smiled even wider with derision. He whipped his head this way and that, laughing scornfully, glancing heavenward in exasperation. This was listening as an aerobic exercise, muscle-taxing and calorie-burning, and the message that he conveyed with it was clear: this widow-peaked pipsqueak to my side has a lot of nerve, a lot to learn and no place at the same table where I’m sitting.
Bruni concludes that Biden overplayed his hand. He ended up sounding like a buffoon, turning off more voters than he turned on.
Richard Miniter astutely suggested that Biden might just have driven single women into the Romney camp:
Swing voters are more than half female and more likely to be single or divorced than married. Did Biden remind those voters of their ex-husbands: not listening, not respectful, interrupting and always having to have the last word? If that's what those voters thought, then Biden just hurt the Obama re-election effort. Biden lost.
If Ryan won, it was by playing rope-a-dope, allowing Biden opponent to punch himself into exhaustion, and then honing in for the knockout.
The analogy would be more cogent if Ryan delivered a knock-out blow at the end of the debate. I suspect that he did not.
The Wall Street Journal seems to have been thinking along these lines:
Mr. Ryan let the bully get away with too much for our tastes, at least until he finally pushed back on the interruptions or until Mr. Biden lost steam in the last half hour. But as anyone who's been in a tavern past midnight understands, it's hard to win a fight with a guy who is shouting from the corner bar stool.
Winning by default is not quite the same thing as winning. Allowing your opponent to steamroller you with the force of his personality does not make you look like a strong leader.
It’s not the first time that a candidate has tried to bully another candidate. Al Gore tried it and George Bush dismissed him with a nod of his head. Joe Biden tried it with Sarah Palin and failed.
If Power Line blogger John Hinderaker is right, Paul Ryan did not do his future any favors last night. He was too much the choir boy, not enough the commanding leader.
In Hinderaker’s words:
I thought Paul Ryan’s performance was highly disappointing. He came across as weak and submissive. There were many opportunities for him to turn to Biden and say, “Joe: shut up! It’s my turn.” But he never did it. I can’t imagine why. Maybe Ryan and his advisers thought Biden would come off poorly because he was such a jerk, but this strikes me as a poor strategy. No one votes for a presidential ticket out of sympathy.
Frankly, I expected much more from Ryan, and he let us down. A disengaged viewer would have seen Joe Biden as the much more forceful, much more knowledgeable candidate. Worse, Biden’s victory gives the Democratic media exactly what they were looking for: an opportunity to declare the beginning of the Obama comeback. This was a needless defeat; I could easily come up with more than 100 individuals who do not hold public office but would have done a better job than Ryan did tonight. It was a big disappointment. Let’s just hope that Biden overplayed his hand and TV viewers thought he was a weirdo. And let’s hope that no one votes based on the VP candidate. Advantage, Democrats.
The continuing story of the debate will center on Biden’s attitude, his craving to be the center of attention, his relentless bullying, his rudeness, disrespect and incivility, his failure to grant the occasion sufficient seriousness.
The other story will be Biden’s factual errors.
So, Hinderaker makes an important point, one that his fellow Republicans are, naturally, overlooking.
You can grasp it by doing a thought experiment: what if the candidate sitting across from Joe Biden last night had been Chris Christie? For how many seconds do you think Chris Christie would have tolerated Biden’s manic and antic disposition?