Despite what appeared to be a fairly lopsided debate in favor of Biden, I don’t know that last night’s debate changed much other than giving Democrats something to cheer. That’s not a small thing after Obama’s lousy showing last week, but all that this means is that Democratic support and enthusiasm for their ticket will start to recover back to what it had been. Unlike many Obama supporters’ reactions last week, almost all Republicans are directing their ire and criticism at the opposing candidate rather than their own, and they want Biden’s aggressive and domineering behavior to be the main story.
Even if some Ryan supporters were underwhelmed or disappointed by his performance, they haven’t been piling on him after the loss. One reason for this is that Ryan didn’t lose this debate as badly as Obama lost his. While his retorts and attacks were not always effective, he was at least making them and putting forth a consistent effort to advance his campaign’s arguments. Ryan isn’t “fluent” in foreign policy issues and was always going to have a more difficult time debating them, but he was so weak in the foreign policy sections in part because he had to repeat Romney’s bad arguments. When most of Romney’s criticisms on foreign policy are either unfounded accusations or minor tactical and procedural complaints, it would be challenging for anyone to explain them to an audience in a way that made them seem appealing. That same weakness is going to be on display when Romney addresses these issues in the next two debates, but for now there was probably no real harm done to the Republican ticket.
Another interesting part of the debate was what didn’t happen. Ryan wasn’t asked why a seven-term House member with no meaningful foreign policy experience should be elected to be next in line to the Presidency. Considering how much of the debate was spent on foreign policy and national security issues, the omission was even more remarkable. It would have been a natural question to ask, and it’s one that Ryan wouldn’t be able to answer easily. I assume that everyone already inclined to vote for the Republican ticket decided to overlook this months ago, but that’s not the point. There wasn’t much in Ryan’s answers last night that gave me confidence that he is prepared to become president if that should ever prove necessary.