You don’t win a nationally televised debate by being rude and obnoxious. You don’t win by interrupting your opponent time after time after time or by being a blowhard. You don’t win with facial expressions, especially smirks or fake laughs, or by pretending to be utterly exasperated with what your opponent is saying.
That’s why Vice President Joe Biden didn’t win the one and only debate last night with his Republican rival, Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan.
In fact, though Ryan had several weak moments—one of them was on Syria—the only conceivable takeaway from the veep debate was Biden’s out of control conduct. It will be long remembered—and not favorably.
There’s one person who should be delighted with Biden. That’s Al Gore. He had the honor of having delivered the most over the top and weird performance in a presidential campaign debate when he sighed and frowned and acted frustrated in his first debate with George W. Bush in 2000. Now Biden has taken that crown—or dunce cap—from Gore.
The only good thing about Thursday night’s debate for the Obama campaign was that it involved Biden rather than Obama. As a result, it’s not likely to have any impact in the election and may not even affect the polls over the next few days.
What were the Obama strategists thinking? Yes, Biden’s performance may have pleased the Democratic party’s liberal base. So what? Their votes are in the bag. Obama needs to attract the small bloc of undecided and swing voters. They’re not likely to lurch his way on the basis of the show Biden put on.
No doubt Biden was told to be aggressive. No doubt he was told not to let Ryan get away with anything. No doubt he was told not to let the moderator, ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz, restrain him.
But he could have done those things without hurting his cause by acting like a man on uppers. Biden was one of the most popular members of Congress, well liked by Democrats, Republicans, and the press. That Biden wouldn’t have interrupted his opponent to score points or register disgust. That Biden wouldn’t have been disrespectful.
That Biden did well in his 2008 debate with Sarah Palin. I suspect he was on his best behavior out of fear of losing the votes of women if he appeared to bully Palin. So he didn’t. Bullying Ryan may not have been as risky, but it didn’t work either.
There’s a way to disagree with your opponent without acting like a jerk. The most recent example: Romney’s firm but polite disagreements with Obama in their debate last week. One can be assertive but affable, tough but cool. Come to think of it, that was Obama’s style in the entire 2008 presidential race. It worked brilliantly. Biden did the opposite in front of tens of millions of American voters. It didn’t work brilliantly.