This time, both candidates drew blood. After the first presidential debate, which was widely seen as a tough loss for President Barack Obama, his running mate, Joe Biden, gave a passionate, aggressive performance. While not a total knockout, Mr. Biden’s faceoff with the Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, should go a long way towards re-setting the discussion and putting the president in a prime position to retake control of the presidential race in the final weeks of the election.
Though the debate began with extensive discussion of the Obama administration’s oft-criticized response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya last month, Mr. Biden still started strong, coming at Mr. Ryan with aggressive attacks, memorable lines and a sharp attitude that left no risk he would be seen criticized for being too low energy like President Obama was in his debate against Mr. Romney.
Mr. Biden really hit his stride when the debate moved to taxes, but Mr. Ryan was no pushover. He countered many of Mr. Biden’s best salvos and managed to clearly articulate the Republican ticket’s economic vision and view that the Obama administration has been too weak on foreign policy. However, despite Mr. Ryan’s prowess, he spent much of the evening on the defensive and Mr. Biden scored serious points when he promised a definite end to the unpopular war in Afghanistan while Mr. Ryan countered with a plan that was, at best, ambiguous.
“We are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period. And in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now, all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Ryan said he and Mr. Romney “don’t want” U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan “beyond 2014,” but he declined to set an exact date for withdrawal. The moderator, ABC News’ Martha Raddatz pressed him on this point.
“He says we’re absolutely leaving in 2014,” Ms. Raddatz said. “You’re saying that’s not an absolute, but you won’t talk about what conditions would justify…”
Mr. Ryan interjected.
“Do you know why we say that?”
Before he could answer, Mr. Biden interjected, asking, “I’d like to know” in a decidedly mocking tone.
“We don’t want to broadcast to our enemies ‘put a date on your calendar, wait us out, and then come back,'” Mr. Ryan explained before being forced to admit by Ms. Raddatz that he and Mr. Romney “agree” with the Obama administration’s stated timeline for withdrawal.
“We do agree with the timeline and the transition, but what we–what any administration will do in 2013 is assess the situation to see how best to complete this timeline. What we do not want to do…”
Mr. Ryan did not get a chance to finish his remarks, because Mr. Biden cut him off.
“We will leave in 2014,” the vice president said.
“What we don’t want to do is give our allies reason to trust us less and our enemies more–we don’t want to embolden our enemies to hold and wait out for us and then take over,” Mr. Ryan began again.
Yet again, Mr. Biden cut him off characterizing his comments as “a bizarre statement” and pointing out that “49 of our allies” have backed the 2014 withdrawal date.
While the discussion of their respective positions on Afghanistan was the only moment in the debate where Mr. Biden seemed to completely overwhelm Mr. Ryan, there was no question the Democrat deftly handled his rival. While this debate will almost assuredly leave partisans on both sides of the aisle cheering for their candidates, there is no doubt Mr. Biden avoided the kind of unanimously declared defeat that President Obama suffered last week.
Mr. Biden may not have completely destroyed Mr. Ryan, but he dashed cold water on the discussion of Democratic debate losses that had been denting President Obama’s edge in the polls following his matchup with Mr. Romney. The Obama campaign was breaking away from the Republican ticket prior to that debate and, as long as President Obama is able to avoid another disastrous outing, Mr. Biden’s performance tonight should be sufficient to set the stage for the incumbents to have a strong finish in the 24 day home stretch between now and the election November 6.