Those inclined to consider the talk about the embrace between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy as being more the result of hyperactive political reporting on the eve of the election than a genuine controversy might have been right. But yesterday’s Politico story about the governor being Mitt Romney’s first choice to be his running mate lent credence to the notion that there was some substance to the notion that Christie was up to something. The anonymously sourced story seemed to indicate Christie was the likely veep nominee until late in the process when he was suddenly dropped in favor of Paul Ryan. The upshot of the piece seemed to be that Christie and his friends were mad about being used as decoys or thought he had been snubbed.
All this is leading some observers to not unreasonably connect the dots between this, Christie’s convention speech in which he barely mentioned Romney, and his much-publicized post-hurricane “bromance” with Obama. Whether they are right about that is an open question, but there is little doubt that if Christie doesn’t want Republican activists (whom presumably he will need if he runs for president in the future) holding a grudge against him for sandbagging their candidate in the last week of a close race, then he needs to listen to this New York Post editorial and give the country a loud and clear reminder that he wants Romney to win on Tuesday, not Obama.
I’ve written previously about the opportunity that the Democratic Party seemed to have in recent years to woo libertarians into their camp. Even right-leaning libertarians were frustrated by the Bush administration’s spending and some of the national security infrastructure put in place after September 11. In addition, the surging support on the left for gay marriage and other social issues seemed to present an opening if the Democrats nominated in 2008 an even modestly pro-market candidate.
They didn’t, and instead nominated Barack Obama, who promised to increase the federal government’s reach into private life, enact a top-town government-run health care system (he was a vocal supporter of the single-payer system), and spread the wealth around. So it was strange to watch libertarians vote for Obama in reasonably large numbers. Reason magazine’s 2008 list of their editors and contributors’ vote preferences makes for sobering reading to any libertarian-leaning voter. And so does part of President Obama’s Rolling Stone interview with historian Douglas Brinkley.
Yesterday in Cleveland, Paul Ryan gave easily one of the most important and substantive speeches of this entire election cycle. The fact that it was substantive alone draws a contrast with President Obama’s reelection focus on Big Bird and binders. But it also outlined with frankness and sophistication the distinction between the worldviews of the two tickets.
Ryan spoke about poverty and education, individualism and dependency. But he also focused on the enduring necessity of civil society and the role that local communities play in the typical American life. Though Ryan credited his mentor Jack Kemp, the true unnamed force behind his speech was the late Robert Nisbet. Here is what Ryan said yesterday:
Obviously Jeffrey Goldberg is no rosy-eyed optimist when it comes to the threat of a nuclear Iran, but he’s also spent the last few years trying to assure everyone that President Obama is dead serious about preventing the bomb. Which is why it’s surprising to see this relatively tough criticism of the administration in his latest column:
Romney was handed an additional gift last week by Vice President Joe Biden. Over the past three years, I’ve been impressed with Obama’s seriousness on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, the urgency with which he treats the subject, and the measures he has taken to keep the regime from crossing the atomic threshold. But last week, in the vice-presidential debate, Biden attempted to portray Representative Paul Ryan as a hysteric on the subject, even though Ryan’s seriousness on Iran matches the president’s.
In so doing, Biden downplayed the importance of confronting Iran. Biden said that when Ryan “talks about fissile material, they have to take this highly enriched uranium, get it from 20 percent up. Then they have to be able to have something to put it in. There is no weapon that the Iranians have at this point. Both the Israelis and we know — we’ll know if they start the process of building a weapon. So all this bluster I keep hearing, all this loose talk — what are they talking about?”
One of the more frustrating exchanges in the vice presidential debate this past week was the one about Afghanistan. Vice President Biden thinks he won the point by insisting that the United States was simply pulling out: “We are leaving Afghanistan in 2014, period. There is no ifs, ands or buts.” By contrast, Paul Ryan’s position was more nuanced, expressing a clear desire to end the American military role in the war there but criticizing the administration’s decision to announce a firm deadline for the pullout that has told the Taliban that all they need to do to triumph is to just wait for the U.S. to bug out. Ryan has the better argument, but at a time when fatigue with foreign wars is high, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Biden’s position might be more popular.
That sentiment reflects not merely the wish to extricate U.S. troops from a bloody and difficult task but a desire to ignore what happens to Afghanistan and its people and to treat the conflict as irrelevant to American interests. That position was more fully articulated in today’s lengthy lead editorial in the New York Times. The piece, titled “Time to Pack Up,” takes the position that the United States should not even wait until 2014 to abandon Afghanistan but flee within the next 12 months leaving the country to the tender mercies of the Taliban. Ironically, the Times underlines Ryan’s fears about what the administration is about to do in Afghanistan. The paper, which in this case probably speaks for most liberals on the issue, treats the Taliban’s eventual victory as perhaps regrettable but unavoidable. They concede defeat to the Islamists but seem to think that admitting this will strengthen rather than hurt American interests in the region. They could not be more mistaken.
Here’s one final note about the vice presidential debate. Both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their weak moments. Ryan couldn’t explain what Mitt Romney would do differently in the future to deal with the tragedy in Syria even if he was right about President Obama’s mistakes. He was also flummoxed by Biden’s comeback about his request for stimulus funds for his Wisconsin congressional district, something for which he should have been prepared. The list of Biden’s mistakes is much longer. Biden told a flat out lie when he claimed he opposed the Iraq War and the add-on of the prescription drug plan to Medicare. He voted for both of the wars and the free drugs for seniors. But as bad as that was, far more offensive was the lie about the administration’s attack on religious freedom via ObamaCare.
In response to Ryan’s accurate charge that the HHS Mandate under ObamaCare forces religious institutions to violate their consciences to pay for services their faith opposes, Biden claimed the following:
With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, one might ask Biden if Georgetown is not being compelled to pay for contraception, then what exactly was behind the ruckus about Sandra Fluke’s complaints about the university’s refusal to do so. Biden’s claim was not only an offensive falsehood, it was a stupid one since even his liberal supporters know that is what is happening.
Analysis of the vice presidential debate has rightly focused on whether the dustup between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan will influence the fortunes of their respective tickets next month. The jury is obviously out on that question, but though we ought not to get too far ahead of ourselves, the debate is also very likely to impact the 2016 contest. Whatever one may think of their performances, both Biden and Ryan are likely to be players on the national scene for some time to come.
That this would be so for the 42-year-old Ryan is hardly news. Ryan is already a major figure in his party and the Congress, so win or lose this year, he’s going to be a factor in the future. But despite, or perhaps because of, his ludicrous behavior during the debate, the same can probably be said of the 69-year-old vice president. Though many may have laughed about Biden’s thinly concealed ambition to succeed President Obama, on the strength of his well-received Democratic National Convention acceptance speech as well as his debate performance, no one should be chuckling about such a prospect today. Though only the most hard-core Democratic partisans were not appalled by his boorish behavior in the debate, both appearances capture his appeal to the party base. If he maintains his health and especially if he is the sitting vice president, Biden will be a formidable competitor for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
The morning after the vice presidential debate, Democrats are delighted. Vice President Joe Biden’s obnoxious display was exactly what was needed to cheer them up after a week of morose speculation about why President Obama was so passive and uninspired at last week’s first presidential debate with Mitt Romney. Indeed, the more Biden giggled, smirked and interrupted Paul Ryan, the better they liked it. While his condescending and bullying behavior contradicted liberal doctrine about conservatives being the ones guilty of polluting the public square with political incivility, it embodied their complete contempt for both Republicans and their ideas. Biden’s nastiness may have re-invigorated a Democratic base that wanted nothing so much as to tell their opponents to shut up, even if it may have also alienated a great many independents. But with the main focus of the election still on the remaining two presidential debates, it’s not clear that President Obama can profit from Biden’s example.
The reason for this is not very complicated. The Democrats cheering on Biden’s bullying, while ignoring the fact that he had nothing to offer on the future of entitlements and his disgraceful alibis about Libya, did so because at bottom they really do not feel Republicans or conservatives are worthy of respect or decency. Though they rarely own up to it, they don’t think Republicans are so much wrong as they are bad. By contrast, most Republicans think Democrats are wrong, not evil. Ryan, whose polite behavior was entirely proper but was made to appear passive and even weak when compared to his bloviating opponent, demonstrated this paradigm by patiently trying to explain his positions even when he was constantly interrupted.
Now that the spin-room arguments about debate winners and losers has died down, the most enduring part of last night’s debate may be Vice President Biden’s comments on Libya. Because the administration has been so tight-lipped on the issue, Biden’s remarks are important in piecing together the puzzle of exactly what the White House knew and when.
As Jonathan noted earlier, Biden specifically contradicted the senior State Department officials and whistle blowers who just testified under oath before the House Oversight Committee earlier this week, and also took a direct swipe at the intelligence community. Josh Rogin reports on more:
As I predicted yesterday, Vice President Biden came out aggressive and swinging against his opponent, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Even when it wasn’t his turn to speak, Biden interjected himself into Ryan’s speaking time. According to RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, Biden interrupted Ryan a total of 82 times. CNN instant polling after the debate showed 70 percent of respondents noting that Biden, not Ryan, spent the debate attacking his opponent (compare this to 19 percent for Ryan).
As Jonathan noted last night, Biden’s incivility could end up causing him more harm than good with voters in the long term. CNN and NBC anchors immediately weighed in on Biden’s tendency to smirk and laugh during his opponent’s allotted time. In the age of split-screen television, Biden’s aggression may have come off well with the Democratic base, but it likely did nothing but turn off undecided voters. His behavior, as already noted by the GOP’s research team, was deemed inappropriate at best by many in the mainstream media.
The vice presidential debate opened with a question about the Libyan consulate attack. While that section of the evening probably didn’t figure heavily in forming opinions about whether Vice President Biden or Paul Ryan prevailed, it did provide an interesting twist in the unfolding tale of administration prevarications about the murders in Benghazi.
In response to a pointed question from moderator Martha Raddatz about what he and the president knew about the Benghazi attack, Biden threw the intelligence community and the State Department under the bus. The vice president claimed that the story the administration put out about the terrorist attack on the consulate and the murder of the U.S. ambassador being part of the fallout from a controversial anti-Muslim video was the fault of the intelligence they were given. But rather than put the issue to bed, it raises even more troubling questions not only about the security disaster but also about the lack of leadership shown by senior administration officials, including the president. It also contradicts State Department testimony and other comments from intelligence officials that they knew it was a terror attack within 24 hours of it happening.
The vice presidential debate provided a test case about the way Americans think about civility. In terms of substance, both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their moments of strength. Ryan was strong on foreign policy, while Biden squirmed and threw the intelligence community under the bus about administration lies about the Benghazi attack. Biden delivered class warfare body blows about Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe.
But the main difference between the two wasn’t so much their competing liberal and conservative ideas and arguments. It was the blatant disrespect shown by Biden for his opponent. Biden giggled, smirked and mugged throughout the debate almost every time Ryan spoke. He also interrupted the Republican almost at will without moderator Martha Raddatz saying a word to call him to order. It may be that Democrats were so dismayed by President Obama’s passive performance in his debate last week that Biden was urged to be more aggressive. But what he did wasn’t merely aggressive; he was openly rude. That may have encouraged the Democratic base, but it remains to be seen whether that is the sort of thing most Americans are comfortable with.
Going into the debate tonight, there’s one major false assumption that needs to be cleared up: the myth of Joe Biden’s likability. A common theme in the pre-debate coverage is that Paul Ryan needs to come off as less wonky to balance out that folksy, blue-collar persona Joe Biden likes to adopt. It’s good advice, but it also shouldn’t give anyone the impression that Biden has some remarkable ability to connect with the average American, or that Ryan is a socially-awkward number-cruncher. Actually, the polls show the complete opposite.
And by “the polls,” I mean all of the polls. Ryan has scored higher favorability ratings than Biden in every national, non-partisan poll since he was chosen as Romney’s running mate, as The Hill reported last month:
If we can get any indication on the tone of tonight’s debate from Paul Ryan and Joe Biden’s chosen debate preparation opponents, it will be two things: wonky and heated.
Biden’s team has tapped Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a strong opponent of Paul Ryan’s budget plan. Van Hollen’s participation in Biden’s debate prep shows just how seriously the vice president is taking Ryan’s plan, and just how badly the Obama campaign wants to put the Romney camp on the defensive tonight. In advance of tonight’s debate the Obama campaign has released a new ad featuring Van Hollen; The Hill reports on its contents:
When Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to be his running mate in August, Republicans spoke about how they couldn’t wait to see the Wisconsin congressman take apart Vice President Biden. But two months later, the stakes in that anticipated match-up are turning out to be far higher than anyone thought. After Mitt Romney’s smashing victory over President Obama last week in the first presidential debate, rather than just being a test of the strengths of the lower halves of each ticket, the vice presidential debate is now seen as a crucial second round that could help shape the rest of the race.
That sounds like an inviting opportunity for conservatives who could be said to have fished their wish when Ryan was put on the ticket. Ryan is the intellectual leader of his party as well as its most prominent advocate of entitlement reform and has long been seen as one of the brightest young stars in the GOP. He is an experienced Washington debater in the House as well as in other forums, such as his highly publicized confrontation with President Obama during a 2010 White House health care summit. But tonight’s encounter is a very different kind of animal. While Biden’s weaknesses and strengths are well known, the pressure is on Ryan to show that he belongs on the biggest political stage. If he fails, it could be a body blow to Republicans who in the last week have begun to feel as if victory in November is within their reach.
Among the chatter heading into tomorrow night’s vice presidential debate between Paul Ryan and current Vice President Joe Biden, it’s easy to pick up on the confidence conservatives have in Ryan and their dismissive attitude toward Biden. Both of those are well founded, since Ryan is a solid debater and in strong command of the facts, while Biden is … Biden. Furthermore, they seem to be making a kind of Talmudic a fortiori argument about the general momentum of the campaigns: if Mitt Romney could so thoroughly defeat Barack Obama, kal v’chomer Paul Ryan could dismantle Joe Biden.
But there are three things conservatives should keep in mind. First, at the Democratic National Convention, Biden was better than Obama was—and it wasn’t even close. Biden had the energy and the populist appeal—two staples of his political persona—while Obama was saddled with presidential exhaustion and a marked lack of ideas or inspirational rhetoric. Biden is the one candidate among the four who is capable of projecting warmth on command. If the Joe Biden from the DNC shows up tomorrow night, Ryan will have his work cut out for him.
It would seem that MSNBC has been caught in an act that can only be called tantamount to journalistic prostitution. Ace of Spades reports (h/t Instapundit) that the cable news network ran a clip showing an airport rally where Mitt Romney introduces Paul Ryan and the audience starts shouting, according to the chyron at the bottom of the screen, “Ryan! Ryan!” and Romney interrupts saying, “No, it’s Romney-Ryan! Romney-Ryan!” This, of course, makes Romney look both churlish and pathetic at the same time.
The only trouble is that the crowd wasn’t yelling “Ryan! Ryan!” it was yelling “Romney! Romney!” when Romney interrupts and graciously insists that his running mate is a vital part of the team–just about the exact opposite. The video, apparently, came from a left-wing blogger who put the clip on YouTube, including the chyron, and it was just much too good for MSNBC to check.
When two of the nation’s leading dailies publish major articles on the same sidebar topic on the same day it’s more than a coincidence. The fact that both the New York Times and the Washington Post are both running features about conservative dissatisfaction about the way Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan is being utilized in the campaign can be interpreted as just another mainstream media attempt to find fault with the GOP, and perhaps to produce some juicy signs of distrust between supporters of Romney and Ryan in the manner of the John McCain-Sarah Palin “Game Change” fiasco. But while that aspect of the story must have appealed to editors at both papers, there’s no question that it is primarily a function of the dismay in some precincts of the right about Romney.
Despite the attempts by both papers to entice the two members of the Republican ticket and their staffs to backstab each other, neither the Romney nor the Ryan entourages were willing to play that game. That means there’s no “Game Change” shtick to unravel, which makes both stories less interesting than their headlines promised. The two candidates like and admire each other and Ryan has had no problem playing the traditional veep role of attack dog and surrogate while tempering his own positions on the issues to put forward a united front with the boss. Nor is it fair to say that Ryan has not been properly deployed. He’s been beating the bushes in swing states as he should. What’s really going on here is that a lot of people who like Ryan and his intellectual and ideological strengths are starting to worry that the interests of their man as well as his issues are not necessarily going to be advanced if Romney loses.
That there were enough conservatives willing to go on the record about this and to second-guess Romney in this manner tells us a lot about the continuing lack of love he gets from some of his party’s leading lights. The grousing about Ryan’s place in the campaign ought to be a matter of some concern for Romney and his top strategists since it is sign that some Republicans are already preparing for the aftermath of his defeat in November.
Although today’s Washington Post/ABC poll gives Mitt Romney no reason to panic–he’s down just one point among likely voters–it should at least raise a red flag: Romney does not seem to be pulling away on the economy, the centerpiece of his campaign. But even more frustrating for the campaign may be that Romney picked a fight he now seems to be losing: Medicare. According to the poll, he’s trailing the president on that question too.
Before Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, Gallup’s polling showed that few were thinking about Medicare heading into the election. Think of it as the opportunity cost–which was raised at the time–of diverting the campaign messaging away from the economy. But you can divert attention from the economy if it’s to an issue voters care about, and if you can win the argument over it. Here’s Gallup’s mid-August chart of the “non-economic” issue voters thought presented the “most important problem” (most recent results from left):
The motto of the Republican Convention in Tampa last week was “We Built It.” Speakers repeated the line (sometimes to excess), videos were played on the theme, signs and banners lined the convention center. By the end of the week, nobody present in Tampa could be unaware that during a speech earlier this year, President Obama claimed that small business owners didn’t build their businesses alone.
The GOP highlighted several speakers during the week that had inspiring stories of building small businesses out of nothing, who risked what little they had to build companies that would become employers. One speaker, Sher Valenzuela, appeared in the early evening on Tuesday and set the tone for the rest of the convention. Valenzuela and her husband (a second-generation Mexican-American), devastated by their son’s autism diagnosis, started a business in order to pay for his care.