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.
It is true that Biden is something of a buffoon, as he so clearly demonstrated last night. But it is the sort of buffoonery that the liberal core of the Democratic Party adores. His bloviating is of the sort that engenders disgust among his opponents but liberals have always longed for a leader who doesn’t merely argue with the other side but bullies them into submission. Biden combines the glad-handing spirit of the traditional politicians with the conduct of a bare-knuckles brawler, exactly the combination that is most likely to charm some of the interest groups who are most likely to turn out in Democratic primaries. He will also benefit from his close association with the president, a not inconsiderable credential in a 2016 race that is unlikely to have a major African-American in the running (sorry, Corey Booker, you won’t be ready by then, if ever). Biden will also have no trouble raising the money needed for a presidential run.
That is not to say I’m predicting Biden will be the Democratic nominee four years from now. Though his party’s bench is terribly thin, someone else is bound to emerge and any fresh face will have an edge against what will by then be a terribly familiar and somewhat elderly Biden whom most rational Democrats will have to know would be a disastrous top of the ticket in a general election. But I do think Biden has a more than decent chance to be competitive in the primaries.
As for Ryan, as most of the TV talking heads said last night, he did himself no damage last night. He remains the intellectual leader of his party and should Romney win, Ryan will be his natural successor as well as the next in line during his presidency. Even if he loses, Ryan will assume the role of the de facto leader of Congressional Republicans and spend the next four years in the spotlight as speculation about the next round grows. Indeed, as the nation’s drift toward insolvency becomes even more apparent, entitlement reform will grow in importance as an issue. That means the Wisconsin congressman will be even more of a player in the next few years than he was in the past.
Unlike the Democrats, the Republican bench is deep and strong. Marco Rubio and Chris Christie are just two of a formidable array of potential GOP candidates. As much as I admire Ryan’s intellect, integrity and good manners, unless Ryan is the sitting vice president, he will be hard pressed to beat either Rubio or Christie. But if he runs, he has as good a chance as anyone.
All of which means it is entirely conceivable, if not necessarily likely, that we haven’t seen the last debate between Biden and Ryan. If so, you can bet that Ryan will insist on rules about interruptions the next time around.