Well, that was interesting. . . I never watch the debates any more — I generally find them insufferable — but I followed it on Twitter and it was pretty easy to get a sense of it. There’s a saying, if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit. Joe Biden came in with a third option: blanket them with bluster.
Biden incessantly made faces and scoffed aloud as Ryan was speaking. He also interrupted Paul Ryan 82 times by one count!
I think Michael Barone has it right that a bluster show can work when the audience already agrees with you, but not when they are undecided. This seems to be backed up by CNN’s dial group (for whatever that’s worth), and by CNN’s post-debate poll, which found that registered voters who watched the debate thought that Ryan won by a narrow 48-44 margin. The poll oversampled Republicans by 3 points, so I think we should call this a tie. (A couple other polls found wildly varying results, but both were internet polls of some flavor. CNN’s seems to be the only conventional poll.)
Before the debate, Republicans were salivating about the VP debate, since Biden is an idiot after all. But I read another commentator (sorry, I don’t recall whom) who disagreed. He pointed out that Biden is utterly unconstrained by the truth and could score points just by making stuff up. And that’s just what happened, at least as far as making stuff up (whether he scored points with his lies is harder to say).
ASIDE: Recall how Joe Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign foundered in part because of an incident in which he blustered that he was much smarter than a man he was talking to, based on a set of achievements that he made up. (His campaign also foundered because he was caught plagiarizing speeches and even elements of the life story of a British politician.)
To be clear, I’m not echoing the Obama campaign’s spin of Romney’s debate victory, in which they argued that Romney looked nothing like Obama’s straw-man caricature of him because Romney (not Obama) was lying about all of Romney’s plans. I’m talking about simple facts. For example: Biden falsely said that the Benghazi consulate did not request more security. He falsely said that the HSS contraception/abortifacient mandate does not apply to religious organizations. He even claimed (falsely, of course) to have voted against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The upshot of all this is the Democratic base will be very happy with Biden’s performance, hence the Democrats crowing about his smashing victory. However, he probably lost a little ground with independents. How does this play out in the race as a whole? Democratic partisans who have been depressed since the presidential debate will be encouraged, and Obama needed that (particularly since that group contains the press), but nothing here breaks up Romney’s momentum with independents.