You are probably getting ready for the debate between the current Vice-President Joe Biden and Mitt Romney’s running mate Congressman Paul Ryan, aren’t you? Well, if you are not, you should. In a few short hours, it will kick off in earnest, and millions of Americans will be tuned in to see how this debate goes.
Let us rewind. It was just a week ago and Obama was getting ready for his first nationally televised debate against Mitt Romney. At that time, Obama was clearly leading most (if not all) of the head-to-head polls against Romney especially in the critical swing states. It seemed all hope was lost for the Romney campaign; even some of his campaign staffers and big money donors began to take to the hills. Something dramatic desperately needed to happen to infuse his campaign with energy and optimism—maybe an unfortunate gaffe from the president; or perhaps devastating foreign policy news—whatever that was going to be no one could have easily guessed that it was going to be the debates.
And who would have guessed anyway? It was not like Obama had, prior to last week’s debate, shown himself to be helpless at debates. Besides, the punditocracy reminded us that these debates seldom change hearts and minds therefore they may not have a huge visible effect on a hardened fiercely and firmly partisan viewing public.
Somehow the prognostications have turned out wrong. Not only did Romney win, but he won big and with it came a tremendous boon for his campaign. Owing to Obama’s dismal performance, the polls are now currently showing that Mitt Romney has closed the yawning gap, and is surprisingly leading Obama in some of the polls! What a difference one debate makes, eh? Yes, Obama’s disastrous outing cannot be exaggerated for even by the most conservative estimates, the Romney campaign experienced a 5-8 point swing. The figure may even be higher amongst women. It is essentially game on now.
I have read various post-mortems of the debate and one thing seems to be a common thread in all of them—Obama was far too detached and perhaps too meek to take Romney to task on what seemed at the time to be transparent volte-face with regards to Romney’s previous policy positions. It was indeed as though Obama forgot that it was a debate and not chit-chat. Perhaps, he was far too uncomfortable with the whole debate undertaking and lacked the fire in the belly to make the crucial point that Romney was nakedly pivoting on the issues. Perhaps, he was told to be simply presidential and to protect his lead by not coming across as disagreeable. Whatever the strategy was, it clearly did not work.—so I am going to guess that we shall see something remarkably different when Joe Biden and Paul Ryan step out to the stage tonight.
And there can be no overestimating the work that the vice-president has before him tonight. Essentially, he has to staunch the bleeding of the Obama campaign as well as re-ignite the belief and passion of the democratic base that their vision for the country is better than anything Romney and Paul can offer. Biden has to be on the defensive to answer and clarify essential differences between Obama and Romney—something that Obama seemingly avoided or hesitated to do in his first debate when it mattered—but he also has to play offense and be seen and understood to do so. In short, he has to win this debate or at least be perceived to tie it. Anything less will spell disaster for the Obama campaign as it will strongly cast doubts in the minds of people on the question of whether this current administration still has the right vision and persuasion to steer the ship of state.
Paul Ryan is still largely an unknown quantity to most people outside the beltway. He is the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a senior member of the House Ways and Means committee; he has been in Washington D.C for over 10 years. He is seen as a ‘numbers’ kind of guy and extremely wonkish on fiscal policy. Can he be able to translate the technical aspects of the discussion or answer pointed debate questions in a language that is easy to understand—one that can fit in the allotted debate time constraints and moreover appeal to the millions that will be watching on TV? That might be his greatest challenge. Unquestionably, he has considerable chops and experience in fiscal, budget or economic matters but how versatile is he on foreign policy? This remains to be seen also. If he can capitalize on his experience and can match Biden toe-to-toe on foreign policy matters despite the possible perception that foreign policy is beyond his ken, he will prove a tougher opponent than Sarah Palin was for Biden 4 years ago.
Both men have a huge task for them in this debate. For Ryan, he has to show that he is not only knowledgeable on the issues but that he is also prepared on day 1 to be the president if it ever came to that. This was generally perceived to be Sarah Palin’s downfall in the 2008 election. He also has the unenviable task of guarding all the precious gains that Romney made last week—a lead that can rapidly evaporate if Biden is able to establish unpreparedness and inconsistency of message with respect to Paul Ryan in the minds of the public.
Biden on his part has to get the wind behind Obama’s campaign sails once more by demonstrating in an abundantly clear fashion that he has a thorough grasp of the facts and the figures. He also has to paint the opposition as not only wavering and unreliable in their overall message, but ultimately as ill-equipped to perform them. He basically has to paint a choice for the masses—a choice that leaves one in no doubt as to how the Romney-Ryan administration will hurt the economy locally and worsen the US foreign policy and actions internationally.