When Mitt Romney defeated Barack Obama in their first presidential debate last week, and by common consent that’s what happened, he raised the pressure onJoe Biden to even the score in the vice presidential debate on Oct. 11.
Biden will have a tough time doing that. Even though Republicans will be trying to lower expectations for their candidate, Representative Paul Ryan, everyone knows he is a formidable and unflappable debater. He knows the ins and outs of domestic policy at least as well as Biden, and speaks more authoritatively about them. Ryan has also spent more elections having to win voters outside his party. What’s more, Biden has some predilections that will make his own job harder.
The vice president seems to believe — judging by how he goes on about it — that he has some special gift for connecting with middle-class voters. This may lead to overconfidence. Ryan has been at least as effective as Biden in making a blue-collar case for his party’s ideas.
Similarly, Biden has a reputation for his foreign-policy expertise, and Ryan has little experience in this area, so the vice president may be tempted to try to show up the younger man. It could backfire, though, since Biden’s reputation is largely undeserved. His record on Iraq — opposing the first war in the early 1990s, supporting the second one, opposing the surge and uniting Iraq’s factions against him by proposing to split the country in three — doesn’t seem like an advertisement for his great judgment. Agree with Ryan or not on foreign policy, he is fluent on it even if it hasn’t been the focus of his career.