Analysts down on Paul Ryan in advance of Thursday’s debate
Much has been made of last week’s presidential debate, which was decisively won by Mitt Romny, but Thursday’s match-up between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is just as highly anticipated and just important for the Republican ticket:
Conservatives have been licking their chops in anticipation of a debate between Paul Ryan and Joe Biden ever since Ryan was announced as the Republican vice presidential candidate. After GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s strong performance in the first presidential debate, the pressure is on Ryan to maintain the momentum, and many on the right don’t think that will be difficult.
Confidence in Ryan’s intellect is matched only by a sense that the gaffe-prone vice president can’t be taken seriously. “Ryan is going to be a great, articulate spokesperson out there. He is going to wipe up the floor with Biden in the debates,” Republican strategist Ed Rollins told Fox News this summer. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has said of Biden: “I think the vice president of the United States has become a laugh line on late-night television.”
But Biden’s no fool, and the sky-high expectations for Ryan could set him up for failure. The House Budget Commmittee chairman from Wisconsin may be smart, but he struggles to give policy specifics when pressed by journalists. Biden may make clumsy remarks, but he’s a seasoned debater, with a gut connection to the middle-class voters who’d be hit by budget cuts Ryan has proposed.
The vice president is “a really knowledgeable debater,” said former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, host of The War Room on Current TV and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s stand-in during Biden’s 2008 debate prep.
Both Ryan and Biden will need to suppress their inner wonks and avoid speaking “in the acronyms of Washington,” Granholm said. “On the vice president’s side, the benefit for him is he connects with real people better than anybody,” she said. In the first presidential debate, both Romney and Obama had a tendency to slide into policy arcana rather than speaking directly to voters.
There’s a buzz around the vice presidential debate on Thursday in Kentucky because the two candidates know their policy, said Ted Kaufman, Biden’s chief of staff for 19 years. In particular, there’s a sense among Republicans “that maybe Governor Romney hasn’t been the best messenger for what they believe in,” Kaufman added.
Ryan’s reputation as an “intellectual policy wonk” carries real vulnerabilities, said Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. If Biden “can catch him in an error, he’ll be able to dislodge the dominant narrative about Ryan,” she said.
For a self-described “numbers guy,” Ryan can be oddly hazy on specifics, analysts noted. In an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday, Ryan wouldn’t say how much the GOP ticket’s proposed tax cuts would cost, just that they’d be paid for by eliminating loopholes in the tax code. “You haven’t given me the math,” Wallace prodded.
It’s true that Republicans shouldn’t get over-confident about Ryan going up against Biden. Sure, Biden often puts his foot in his mouth — such as his comments about the middle class being “buried” in the last four years and his desire to raise taxes by $1 trillion. He’s also made some wild, downright insane assertions about Romney and Ryan. Voters have responded by looking at Biden in an unfavorable light.
I’d be surprised if Biden didn’t go straight for the jugular by slamming Ryan’s budget plan and Medicare reform proposals, but that attack has backfired in many cases on Democrats, just look at the polls in Florida, for example.
Despite all of that, Ryan has more to prove in this debate. I do think analysts are vastly underestimating Ryan’s ability to communicate with people. He has a way of being able to break down complicated numbers and explain them in an understandable way. As I’ve noted before, Ryan went right at President Obama during the healthcare reform “summit” in a manner that was easy to understand.
Ryan has explained the fiscal challenges that face the United States in the future and the need to pass his budget, the Path to Prosperity, in very simple terms. Voters respond well to him because he, unlike Romney, comes across as genuinely likeable and honest.
My view of this debate right now is that it’s Ryan’s debate to lose, and the only way that’s going to happen is if he, much like President Obama like week, doesn’t show up.