Paul Ryan took the baton in the second leg of the presidential debates Thursday night and held the lead Mitt Romney built last week, despite the best efforts of Vice President Joe Biden to trip him, tackle him and gouge his eyes out.
Biden sought to win the debate in Danville, Ky., by constantly controlling the microphone, interrupting Ryan outright or muttering nonstop while his opponent was speaking.
On the split-screen, Biden was mostly seen laughing, sneering and grimacing while Ryan spoke. It wasn’t clear whether he was truly amused by Ryan’s answers, or whether he simply had gas. Either way, he looked rude, and often came across as disrespectful and condescending.
He kept the dismissive smile on his face even when the debate turned to deadly serious issues, such as the slaughter in Syria.
I found myself halfway through praying for President Barack Obama’s health — nothing about Joe Biden’s demeanor last night suggested “presidential.”
The vice president was obviously trying to present more fire and passion than exhibited by Obama in Denver last week, but instead he came across as annoying.
He showed no interest in a back-and-forth debate, but instead attempted to silence Ryan by speaking over him and denying him the opportunity to state his positions.
Ryan obviously wasn’t prepared for what he confronted in the Bluegrass. He came to Danville armed with facts and specific proposals, expecting to battle the vice president on ideas.
Instead, he faced an opponent who felt he could win by keeping his opponent’s ideas from being heard.
Credit Ryan for staying calm and not allowing the vice president to distract him into a gutter brawl. He was perhaps too polite in dealing with Biden’s rudeness.
The sharpest contrast between the two is that Ryan brought specific solutions to the country’s most pressing problems.
For example, on Medicare, Ryan effectively explained the Romney/Ryan plan to gradually introduce a premium support program to head off insolvency of the program.
Biden focused on tearing down Ryan’s proposal — “we will have no part of any voucher plan” — but put no alternative on the table for fixing a program that will go bust without intervention.
That was typical of the night. Biden failed miserably to explain the administration’s bungling of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya.
In the end, this debate will likely be spun based on partisan leanings. Democrats must be pleased that Biden did not repeat Obama’s somnambulance in the first debate.
Republicans will likely cheer the maturity and command of the issues exhibited by their young vice-presidential nominee.
But if likability is a key measure of who wins and who loses a debate, Ryan comes out on top.
It’s hard to like a guy who spends 90 minutes behaving like a rude bully.
(Nolan Finley is editorial page editor of The Michigan View. Originally posted on The Michigan View.)