Grading the Vice Presidential Debate 2012

Who won the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday night?  Again, looking at both argumentation and optics, I must agree that what we saw was incredibly close to a tie.  Polls that show Ryan winning the night by 4% points surprised me on CNN; the arguments foisted by Biden seemed stronger, the rebuttals more sure, and the overtalking–considered a strength when Governor Romney  walked over President Obama last week–was fodder among Republicans to show the Veep being ill-mannered.  It still won Biden points, by my count.

In terms of style, however, the draw was more clear-cut.  Biden, although goofy and churlish at times, was personable, inventive, and engaged.  Ryan also performed admirably, although in an entirely different style–cool, calm, collected and near the end (and especially on foreign policy) able to push back just as hard.

Columnist David Brooks delves deeper into what these two very distinctive styles might mean, and how they symbolize two different types of viewers:

Biden gave America the full opera Thursday night, and I suspect there will be as many reactions as there are partisan flavors. Democrats will obviously be cheered by his aggressive, impassioned and offensive performance….

Ryan hails from a different era, not the era of the 1950s diner, but the era of the workout gym. By Ryan’s time, the national media culture was pervasive. The tone was cool, not hot. The meritocracy had kicked in and ambitious young people had learned to adopt a low friction manner. Ryan emerges from this culture in the same way Barack Obama does.

This is a generation armed with self-awareness. In this generation, you roll your eyes at anyone who is quite so flamboyantly demonstrative as the vice president.

via The Generation War –

Bottom line:  Both earn A-‘s for each of their overall performances. This was an evening of apparent substance.  But in reviewing the evening scores, I would give Biden gets a slight edge, albeit ever-so-minimal, with a 51/49 score because, in part, he held up under pressure, delivered pummeling blows, and didn’t self-destruct, giving the Democrats hope that they can recover the last debate’s disaster by the President. He also won the media cycle war for both is strengths as well as for his apparent stylistic weaknesses.

This isn’t a loss for Ryan; he had a lot to prove and measured up well. He even landed a great zinger.  But he wasn’t able to best the Veep and as a result, will have to settle for a respectable performance that served his base well, but without making a major boost for the top of his ticket.

I would, however, give Martha Raddatz a solid A in what I deem the best interrogation performance by a moderator.  She asked smart questions (except for the last one about the ‘tone’ of the campaign, an obvious no-brainer!) and even knew how to push with follow-ups, kept the pressure on each side fairly and with rigor, and demonstrated that reporters, not anchors, warrant the hot seat. Conservatives who complain are merely playing the partisan/fan game or reviling the refs and will rue this line when they have a better performance but don’t get credit.  Substantial debates moderated fairly are in everyone’s interest, except the loser.

Other takes?  Mark Halperin gives Ryan the edge.

10 thoughts on “Grading the Vice Presidential Debate 2012”

  1. While it’s always hard to pinpoint a “winner” of a debate, I felt that the author of this article had an interesting take on why he believes Biden was successful:,0,6771979.column

    He claims that the winner of the debate was President Obama. Did Vice President Biden’s chuckles get annoying at times? Yes. It made Republicans mad, which is what the Democrats wanted. It’s an interesting opinion, but I’m not sure if I agree. Biden at times seemed to be taking everything a little too lightly. However, at times they changed roles and Biden seemed to be the adult and Ryan the teenager. Biden played the “experience” card a couple of times, referring to the times when he worked with the Reagan administration.

    Overall, it was an above-average debate. I am at times hesitant to listen to debates because those debating often do nothing but dodge the questions and beat an array of dead horses. I thought Martha Raddatz did an excellent job of leading both candidates toward the crux of each issue. She was quick to call a few bluffs, too.

  2. Although I made a personal assumption that Ryan had won the debate last week, I found many different opinions while discussing the debate with others. I was still very surprised by the above article. First, I would argue that debates have little to no effect on voters who have already adhered to a side of the campaign. The undecided voters, possibly even those loosely attached to a side, are obviously the most targeted audience of these broadcasted events.

    As CBS reports, though, there was not a clear winner to the VP debate. CBS concluded a poll that showed a decisive win for Biden. Their poll was targeted at undecided voters; the ones I argue are the most important. CNN also completed a survey and found that the VP candidates nearly tied in their performances. This survey was completed on registered voters, signifying a usual party affiliation.

    So what does this mean? This election is important and grand change for the U.S. is coming regardless of who is elected in November. Whether you are one to trust national polling or not, you most likely agree that this election is extremely close. An exciting and decisive month is upon us.

  3. I must say that my personal opion was that Paul Ryan won the debate. I don’t mean to say that he won it hands down, but I do believe that his cool, calm composure and that his display of intellect and in-depth knowledge of the issues being debated was a major plus for him. I also was impressed by Biden’s conviction, which contrasted sharply with President Obama’s, and I thought Biden did well in attempting to keep people distracted with his zingers and humorous expressions aimed at or made in response to Ryan’s speeches. However, I do think that Biden was rude and much too over-the-top.

    Below is a link which also grades the vice presidential debates. It also points out the over-the-top behavior displayed by Biden while further critiquing both debatees on their strengths and weaknesses.

  4. Unlike the presidential debate, there was definitely did not seem to be a clear cut winner of this debate. I personally thought Biden’s laughing and grinning made him come off as arrogant but he also made the points he wanted to make. His emphasis on his political experience also seemed to give him an advantage by making Ryan look inexperienced. Ryan did seem more calm and collected throughout most of the debate. The debate was also much livelier than the presidential debate, which at times seemed to be just taking turns repeating talking points. Overall I would say it was pretty much a tie, with the candidates winning and losing in different aspects.

  5. Both Biden and Ryan had strengths and weaknesses during the debate. Ryan’s calm demeanor made him seem more confident and professional. As mentioned earlier, Biden did manage to anger the Republicans with his giggling, interrupting, and smirking. While he was effective at that, I’m not sure that will help his campaign at all. I doubt it made Democrats think any more highly of him than they already did and it only made Republicans dislike him more. VP debates don’t tend to affect elections in extreme ways, but this one was important nonetheless.

  6. The interesting thing I found with the debate and the reactions to Biden was they fell across party lines. I, like my fellow liberals, saw Biden as being fun, reachable and honest. I did not see his smiling as “goofy” but rather a “I have an answer that I am just waiting to give you”. However, my conservative friends did not appreciate Biden, calling him rude, idiotic (which is itself a rude claim) goofy, and often citing Proverbs 29:9. I would like to note about that scripture passage, yes Biden was laughing a lot, but he had arguments and facts. While my more politically neutral friends either didn’t care or fell one way or the other. I will say that Ryan impressed me. I know Ryan from watches his speeches and following his positions on issues and find him a bit extreme. However, that wasn’t the man I saw at the debate. While I am impressed by his ability to fight back, in the end I think the moderator really was able to bring out of him some big worries that even some conservatives have, and that is, there doesn’t seem to be a real plan. Though, I do see why he is running for vice-President, he can hold his own and knows how to cater to his audience.

  7. If you look at who had more at stake in this debate, I think it’s easy to argue that the Obama-Biden ticket needed to rebound from Obama’s dismal performance the week before. Ryan predicted that Biden would come out swinging, much like Romney did against the president. Biden had to appear to dominate the environment of the debate. I think he was successful. I’m sure Romney just wanted his running mate to hold his own. But I think Ryan actually underperformed if we consider the early expectations most Republicans had for the veep debate. It seems safe to say that many Republicans expected Ryan to do to Biden what Romney did to Obama. And I think they expected Romney to have the kind of performance Ryan had (or maybe even worse). Romney really came out of nowhere during that first debate, which turned the tables to Ryan’s relative disadvantage. If Biden hadn’t been so desperate, I don’t think he would have resorted to some of his ill-disposed antics. For better or worse, those antics caught some attention (

  8. I would have to say that Ryan won this debate. He carried himself in a much more professional manner. Imagine if you are in Model U.N. and while you are giving a speech and a section of delegates constantly laugh and smirk during your speech, guess who isn’t going to get an award at the end of that conference. No matter how much you disagree with someone you need to learn how to keep your composure. This wasn’t a time for Biden to be “fun.” The future of this country right now is in serious jeopardy, and this administration has not overseen 4 years of optimism. A bit of seriousness would be appreciated. Also I would have to say that either Biden is embarrassing uninformed or a flat out liar when he said that they did not refuse to provide security Benghazi when the Obama administration had just came out and said that they had.
    Ryan didn’t do perfect by any means, but he was the only one that looked like a vice president on the stage that night.

  9. Joe Biden was rude. It paid off.
    There were mixed poll results immediately following the debate, but when it came to undecided voters, Biden certainly came off on top. He reminded me of a grandpa scolding his grandchild, and although he was probably overly rude, it set the stage for Obama to come out swinging tonight.

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