By Ben Cohen: The general consensus within media and political circles as that Joe Biden must relentlessly attack Paul Ryan in tonight’s Vice Presidential debate if he is to make up for President Obama’s desultory performance last week. There is no doubt Biden needs to take it to Ryan tonight, but there’s a lot more that the Vice President needs to do to put right what Obama put wrong.
Presidential debates are basically an exercise in branding and marketing – and thus far, the Obama/Biden brand has been damaged pretty badly.
Part of me feels pretty ridiculous for commenting on the whole process given how completely insane it is – the mere fact that they have a ‘spin’ room where media strategists try to re-frame the debate after the event to the salivating press should be enough to make the entire debacle irrelevant – but that is the reality of modern elections. It is a gigantic image contest that requires insane attention to details that don’t have anything to do with actual policy, and whoever masters the detail usually wins.
This election, and this debate is an important one, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The Romney/Ryan ticket is about as lethal a duo as you could possibly imagine given the fragile state of the economy and volatility in the Middle East, and the only thing left preventing both blowing up are President Obama and Vice President Biden. Another Republican victory tonight could be disastrous for the Democrats and it rests on Biden’s shoulders to save the proverbial day.
So what does Joe need to do tonight? Here’s our somewhat superficial guide to the Vice Presidential debate:
1. Look sharp. Biden must reassure voters that he knows how to dress like a Vice President. This means shirt tucked in, tie folded in perfect symmetry and hair coiffed perfectly. Biden should use Robert Redford as a model.
2. Speak in soundbytes. The more zingers from Biden the better, regardless of what pundits say. Zingers get turned into youtube clips that can often go viral. Given America’s attention span is close to zero, the shorter the better.
3. Point out how young Paul Ryan is and insinuate he’s nowhere near mature enough to be Vice President. Biden must come across as a slightly elderly statesman and put Ryan in his place.
4. Encapsulate in as few words as possible the main reason why Ryan and Romney should not be trusted by the American public. A suggestion: “You have both lied and changed your positions so many times it is impossible to know where you stand on anything”. Nothing fancier.
5. Attack Ryan on his extremely dubious math. Again, this needs to be done pithily – Americans don’t want to hear long winded calculations and intricate policy details. “Your sums don’t add up and you have failed to present details on your tax plan for America.” This must be repeated often.
6. Highlight the differences between Obama and Romney. Biden needs to get the base excited again so mentioning gay marriage, women’s rights, and healthcare is an absolute necessity. Biden must go out of his way to portray Romney and Ryan as extremists and not allow his opponent to claim the center as Romney successfully did against Obama last week.
7. No long winded speeches. Biden is like the uncle you wish would shut up at Christmas – he loves the sound of his own voice, and he must be extremely self conscious about this for tonight.
8. No gaffes. Biden is about the most gaffe prone politician around – thankfully they are largely harmless (unlike Romney’s, which have been life threatening), but the stakes are high and a polished performance is an absolute necessity.
We’ll be doing a live blog of the debate tonight, so please join us at 9pm ET, 6pm PT for what could be another defining moment in this Presidential election.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.