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Morning Feature – Paul Ryan’s Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Debut

October 12, 2012

Morning Feature

Morning Feature – Paul Ryan’s Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Debut

Unlike his Republican National Convention speech, last night Paul Ryan had to face tough questions, and proved he was not ready for prime time. (More)

Paul Ryan’s Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Debut

Last night Vice President Joe Biden exposed the emptiness beneath Paul Ryan’s Beltway reputation. From calling Ryan’s criticisms about Libya “malarkey” and following up with a detailed and factual explanation, to invoking the Irish euphemism “a bunch of stuff” (he couldn’t say s**t on television) in response to Ryan’s claim that President Obama snubbed Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to offering the most devastating rebuttal yet to Mitt Romney’s infamous 47 percent comment, again and again the vice president came back to a central question: “Who do you trust?”

On both policy and politics, Vice President Biden gave a virtuoso performance. Although a Republican-heavy CNN/ORC poll showed a narrow Ryan win, a CBS News poll of undecided voters found Vice President Biden a clear winner, and a self-selected Washington Post poll favored Vice President Biden by 65-35. The Post‘s Chris Cillizza said the vice president left Ryan “largely a bystander.”

The Paul Ryan myth …

When Mitt Romney tapped Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, the young congressman had an enviable Beltway media reputation. He was routinely hailed as “courageous,” albeit for the ‘courage’ to pamper the privileged and scold the needy. Yesterday the Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein offered this assessment:

First, he’s smart. This shouldn’t need to be said, but some liberals seem to think Ryan’s intelligence is some kind of facade. In this view, he’s really a robotic Randian who does little more than spout talking points. His reputation for intelligence is simply the soft bigotry of Washington’s low expectations for politicians.

Vice President Biden’s team would be unwise to buy into this comforting line of thought. Ryan’s smart, and he’s quick, and he’s heard most of what you have to say before.

Klein then buffered that praise – or perhaps praised himself – noting that Ryan often came up short when pressed on details by someone who actually knows policy details:

That’s not to say he always has good answers for them. I remember walking away from our first debate somewhat confused. The deeper we drilled into the regulations in Ryan’s plan, the more they sounded like the very plans he was arguing against.
[...]
In effect, Ryan’s plan and Obama’s plan would regulate insurance products sold through the exchanges in pretty much the same way. But Ryan didn’t want to say that. So he basically offered a lot of convincing sounding words on the topic. If you parse his response, it’s not terribly convincing. But you really need to know the issues to parse his response.

In short, Klein believed Ryan was knowledgeable and articulate enough to convince a general audience, and only a better-informed policy wonk would recognize and could expose the emptiness beneath what Klein called Ryan’s “word salad.”

… shattered

Instead Ryan looked out of his depth on foreign policy. He was forced to admit he privately requested stimulus projects while publicly denouncing the stimulus bill. He punted the details of Mitt Romney’s tax plan to a future Congress:

RADDATZ: Well, let’s talk about this 20 percent. You have refused – and, again – to offer specifics on how you pay for that 20 percent across-the-board tax cut. Do you actually have the specifics? Or are you still working on it, and that’s why you won’t tell voters?

RYAN: Different than this administration, we actually want to have big bipartisan agreements. You see, I understand the…

RADDATZ: Do you have the specifics? Do you have the…

(CROSSTALK) BIDEN: That would – that would be a first for the Republican Congress.

RADDATZ: Do you know exactly what you’re doing?

RYAN: Look – look at what Mitt Romney – look at what Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did. They worked together out of a framework to lower tax rates and broaden the base, and they worked together to fix that.

What we’re saying is, here’s our framework. Lower tax rates 20 percent. We raised about $1.2 trillion through income taxes. We forego about $1.1 trillion in loopholes and deductions. And so what we’re saying is, deny those loopholes and deductions to higher-income taxpayers so that more of their income is taxed, which has a broader base of taxation…

BIDEN: Can I translate?

RYAN: … so we can lower tax rates across the board. Now, here’s why I’m saying this. What we’re saying is, here’s the framework…

BIDEN: I hope I’m going to get time to respond to this.

RADDATZ: You’ll get time.

RYAN: We want to work with Congress – we want to work with the Congress on how best to achieve this. That means successful. Look…

RADDATZ: No specifics, again.

Ryan even jumped into the political tarpit of advocating for privatized Social Security. His performance was so bad that Republicans were left sputtering about moderator Martha Raddatz – who did an excellent job of directing and limiting the discussion – and complaining Vice President Biden laughed and smiled too often.

All of that said, grassroots Democratic activists should not read too much into last night’s debate. As the New York Times‘ Nate Silver notes, vice presidential debates rarely shift the dynamics of a race. While the debate likely boosted Democrats’ morale – and that alone was worthwhile – we’ll still have to translate that into the phone calls, canvassing, and other GOTV work that win elections.

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Happy Thursday!

  • winterbanyan

    I am so glad that Biden didn’t let Ryan keep slipping away, and that the moderator acted like a moderator. Details, sir, details. Why? Because that’s what the public needs, not vague promises.

    Sounds like I missed a great debate. And while you say the VP debates don’t matter much, it remains I had an undecided voter tell me yesterday that they would make their decision based on last night’s debate because they’re voting by mail.

    I’m sure it swayed some. Absolutely. Now we need the President to do the same in the next round … which I promise to sleep or read my way through so I can hear the good news in the morning. ;)

    • NCrissieB

      You missed an outstanding performance by an intelligent, experienced, and passionate public servant … facing off against an opponent whose reputation greatly exceeds his abilities.

      Paul Ryan built that reputation by avoiding the bluster-and-blowhard version of contemporary conservatism, playing the nice guy who advocated right-wing positions with numbers instead of arrogant bravado. As compared to other Republicans, he seemed “smart” and “wonkish.” But Ezra Klein wrote that – if pressed on details – Ryan usually ended up proposing essentially the same policies he claimed to oppose.

      That happened again last night. When Vice President Biden (or Raddatz) forced Ryan to cut through the blather, there was no “there” there.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

      • Gardener

        But quite a lot of blather……..!

  • trs

    President Obama is at a distinct disadvantage in the debates. If he responds like Biden did last night, the dog whistles will be out in force – “uppity,” “elitist,” and things of that nature – code words for “angry black man.” That’s a problem. He has to figure out a way to balance calling Rmoney on his lies and not seeming “angry” or “threatening.” It’s a tough balance, but now that he better knows what he’s up against, he’ll have a better shot at pulling it off. It will also help if the moderator actually, you know… moderates.

    • winterbanyan

      Given Obama’s popularity with the public, the fact that he’s more trusted than his opponent, I think they might pull out dog whistles but a majority of Americans will ignore them now. I refer to Mike’s comment in Chatter: simple declarative statements might go a long way.

      So will that thousand-watt smile.

    • NCrissieB

      That’s a fair point, trs, although President Obama admitted that he was too polite. Not surprisingly, Republicans praised Mitt Romney’s “leadership” and “boldness” when he interrupted President Obama and Jim Lehrer throughout the last week’s debate… and said last night that Vice President Biden should be “embarrassed” because he interrupted Paul Ryan.

      For what it’s worth, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said he learned a lot from watching Vice President Biden last night, and he hopes President Obama did as well.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

      • winterbanyan

        When interrupted, the President should say, “Excuse me, sir, I’m still speaking. You’ll get your turn in a moment.” That’s polite enough, and pointed enough.

    • Gardener

      Yup!

  • LI Mike

    Good analysis, Crissie. For Ryan and his ilk, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Meaning, the Tea-partiers are so flawed that they cannot win a Senate race in a purple state, only the reddest of staes.

    Ryan’s had the reputation of being the smart kid in the class and your reference to Klein and the pat of the debate on taxes shows him to be an empty suit — to borrow another metaphor.

    • NCrissieB

      Ryan proved to be an empty suit, indeed, Mike. Perhaps now we can finally be rid of that ridiculous “Paul Ryan is a serious, courageous, intellectual conservative” meme. He’s one-for-four: conservative. The rest is, as you say, a case of “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • Gardener

    A very, very enjoyable debate, finally! Joe did a great job on that punk!

    Now, what’s with the Eddie Munster haircut? He he always sported that? Looks ridiculous on a grown man, IMO.

    • NCrissieB

      I think Ryan may have bought into the GOP groupthink on Vice President Biden as a bumbling old gaffe machine. He learned otherwise last night….

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • addisnana

    This is going to make today’s phone calls a pleasure to do!

    • NCrissieB

      I agree, addisnana. I look forward to hearing how other Democrats saw last night’s debate. :)

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • Lake Toba

    Joe Biden ripped Ryan apart. On every issue, Biden was both factual and pragmatic.

    • NCrissieB

      As numerous commenters across the Twitterverse have noted, if you’re reduced to complaining about the moderator and your opponent’s smile … you’ve lost badly….

      Good afternoon! ::hugggggs::