Shields and Brooks Review the Vice Presidential Debate

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - October 11, 2012

Make a Comment

Listen: MP3

JUDY WOODRUFF: And with that, this sole debate between Vice President Biden and his Republican challenger, Congressman Paul Ryan, is over.

We are watching them as they begin to leave the stage. I expect their wives and families will come up to join them.

Gwen, this has been a debate that was contentious from the first moment it began on foreign policy. And it's moved across the spectrum from foreign policy to domestic. And we have seen quite a disagreement between these two gentlemen.

GWEN IFILL: Well, the one thing about having only one vice presidential debate is you get to cover a broad range of issues. It's not just about domestic policy. It's not just about foreign policy. It's also about everything, even though they didn't get to a lot of issues, obviously. You don't get to them all.

But what we saw was an actual debate. It seemed that way that they actually engaged with one another.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I think the fact that they were sitting at a table together, it seemed as if they truly engaged on every -- on issues from Libya, Iran, the economy, taxes, Afghanistan, and Syria.

Let's get...

GWEN IFILL: I have to say, Judy, I have done two of these debates, one standing, one sitting. And when they are sitting, they are better debates.

We go to some reaction now from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. They have been watching the debate with Judy and me in our studios.

And what do you think, David?

DAVID BROOKS: It's about Joe Biden.

First of all, you know, he sort of -- because of his persona, because of his facial expressions, he sort of becomes the center of attention. And so I think a lot of Democrats will take a look at how aggressive he was, how aggressive at malarkey and all that stuff and will say, yes, that's what we wanted from Obama. We wish he had done that.

Some people will look at the smirking, what some will see as condescending, and be a little off-put. I suspect Republicans will say that.

But I do think the least you could say about this debate is that it will have stanched the Democratic sense that things are slipping away, because they will be cheered up by this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, how do you see it?

MARK SHIELDS: I thought the contrast in styles was remarkable.

Paul Ryan, for the first time on a national stage, was incredibly cool, and Joe Biden was incredibly passionate. I mean, each was himself. I do think that, stylistically, Joe Biden did the Democrats an enormous service tonight. He brought passion, emotion. He made the case.

He did 47 percent. He did the two letters that Paul Ryan had sent for stimulus. I mean, he went after Romney's tax rate, and compared it to that of ordinary people and said the people working, fighting in Afghanistan tonight are not freeloaders.

I mean, I thought, in that sense -- I thought Ryan handled himself quite well. There was no misstep that I saw. And he just -- it was -- I thought it was a very good exchange.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Paul Ryan had a quip tonight in which at one point he said that Joe Biden was under duress to make up for lost ground. He was obviously referring to the president's performance, which was widely judged, especially by Democrats, to be lackluster this week. Did he make up for lost ground, David? DAVID BROOKS: I think among Democrats. I'm trying to put myself in the mind of independents. And do they see Biden and say, oh, he's really passionate, or do they say that guy is just one of those fighting politicians? GWEN IFILL: Is he grinning or is he smirking? DAVID BROOKS: Right. And so I like -- I personally like talking Joe Biden better than listening Joe Biden. And so I didn't like the listening manner. I thought it was too histrionic. JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean when he was smiling? DAVID BROOKS: Smiling and interrupting, I thought, a little too much. And so -- but when you think about the independent voters, one of the things that tremendously appeals to them and did in the last debate is, who can make politics better? And so that -- who can change the tone, as George W. Bush -- who can get us beyond the stale debates? I'm not sure they will see either of those two guys as getting us beyond the bitter partisanship. JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark. MARK SHIELDS: Yes. There are just -- there were a couple of little twists in there. I thought that what President Biden said that -- Vice President Biden said about the capital gains and carried interest being two of the big loopholes, I hadn't noticed the administration pushing hard to repeal either one of them. But at the same time, I just thought he really kind of hung Ryan out to dry on the no details on the tax plan. I mean, that really was exposed. And his answer is, we're going have a bipartisan solution. And that really does -- I mean, people don't... DAVID BROOKS: He didn't get as much chance on Medicare. Frankly, from my interest, I thought there was too little time spent on domestic policy, which is what people are voting on. So, I thought that sort of minimized that. He definitely hit Ryan very hard on the tax stuff. Didn't get the Medicare. But the chief Biden-Obama vulnerability is still there, the lack of a positive agenda. So, you saw both vulnerabilities. JUDY WOODRUFF: That is what I wanted to ask both of you, if you think one or the other got the better of more arguments or less, or it was a draw? I mean, how did you see it on the -- the -- just the sum value -- the sum total of the arguments that they were making? MARK SHIELDS: Well, I'm probably belying my own -- my own biases, but I... (LAUGHTER) GWEN IFILL: That is why we have you here, Mark. That's OK. MARK SHIELDS: Well, that's right. And Mr. Bias, speaking for biased Americans everywhere... (LAUGHTER) MARK SHIELDS: No, I thought Biden -- I thought Biden had a bigger task to perform tonight, and I thought he did it. And Ryan's job was certainly not to lose momentum from last week. And I think -- what was fascinating to me is that Biden went after a lot more ferociously and aggressively than Ryan went after President Obama, until the very end. GWEN IFILL: Well, except that we did -- in the foreign policy section, on which there was a lot, he did say more than once that it was devastating and the unraveling of U.S. foreign policy. MARK SHIELDS: That's right. GWEN IFILL: So he clearly was going after the Obama administration policy when it came to foreign policy. MARK SHIELDS: But, in a sense, personalizing the Romney inconsistencies on the auto plan, just confronting when Paul Ryan into -- sort of rhapsodized about Romney's personal generosity and charitableness, and he came right back and said, it wasn't the auto industry -- the autoworkers and so forth. I just thought in that sense it was -- it comes down to what your taste is. And my taste is Joe Biden. (LAUGHTER) DAVID BROOKS: Well, one of the interesting things is the contrast of age, contrast of generations, contrast of political styles. DAVID BROOKS: So Biden grows up in a generation really hearkening almost back to the New Deal, where politicians were just relaxed and were sort of sort of out there. Ryan grows up in the television era. MARK SHIELDS: That's right. DAVID BROOKS: And very disciplined, very policed, very policy. Even when he was asked a character question, in the end, he talked about policy. GWEN IFILL: You make a very interesting point about their age gap. In fact, this is the largest age gap between two... JUDY WOODRUFF: Forty-two and 69. GWEN IFILL: More than Reagan and Mondale, more than -- which we heard so much about, you know, the comment that Reagan made about Mondale's age or lack of inexperience -- or experience -- and also more than we saw with Cheney and Edwards a few years ago, where there also seemed to be a huge gap. So, I wonder if the smiling wasn't about exacerbating that gap. DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I found it insulting because maybe I'm more closer to Ryan's age than to Biden's. (LAUGHTER) DAVID BROOKS: But I do think there is a difference between children of maybe the '50s, '60s and children of the Reagan era. There is just a different tone in how people talk. And I think you saw it there. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we -- I think we're going to go to our colleague Jeffrey Brown now, who is with -- Jeffrey, you are there in another studio. (LAUGHTER) JEFFREY BROWN: I am here. I'm joined by presidential historian Michael Beschloss and our political editor, Christina Bellantoni. And we are going try to do the first draft of history and then the longer look. (LAUGHTER) JEFFREY BROWN: But, Christina, you get the first draft, which these days is a zillion tweets, right? CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yes. JEFFREY BROWN: What was happening? CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Well, a lot of things. First off, partisans that are out there on Twitter or looking at Facebook were far more encouraged tonight on both sides. You saw a lot of desperation and people wanting to sort of see the president do better last week, and a lot of Republicans saying that Mitt Romney had really won. But, tonight, you see Democrats far more encouraged by what you were seeing. But what you also saw were the campaigns taking a little bit more control of the messaging on Twitter. The Obama campaign or partisans on the Democratic... JEFFREY BROWN: You mean as it was happening? CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yes, on the Democratic side started a hashtag called #RyansChoice, where they really able to put in some of their policy zingers as the debate was going. And that actually remained a trending topic for most of the night, which didn't happen last week at all. That sort of went out of control with other topics that ended up being a little bit more interesting. And then you also saw a lot of the reaction to, as Mark and David and Gwen and Judy were just talking about, the facial expressions of all -- of these candidates and... JEFFREY BROWN: Particularly with Joe Biden. CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Right, but also Paul Ryan and his looks. So, what we see on Twitter is that people will create pictures or funny things like that and get a little bit more of the joking elements. But the policy did shine through a little bit tonight. JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Michael, it was said going in, we said it earlier tonight, that this had a lot more riding on it than most -- the usual vice president debates. How did it feel to you? MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, presidential historian: Well, you know, if you look for a historical precedent, 1976, second debate, Gerald Ford made this enormous gaffe saying that the Soviets didn't control Eastern Europe. Then came a vice presidential debate between Walter Mondale and his choice, Bob Dole. Everyone on the Republican side was hoping that Dole in that debate would stop the bleeding. Dole did the opposite, said, you know, what, Democratic presidents have been responsible for 1.6 million deaths in the 20th century. Didn't help at all. I think, in contrast to that, if Democrats were looking at this debate as something that would stop the bleeding that started when Barack Obama had a bad night last week, I think this is going to do it. JEFFREY BROWN: All right, that is a first look. I'm going to throw it back to Judy and Gwen now, and we will come back later. JUDY WOODRUFF: And we are going to go back to the debate site in Kentucky at Centre College, where Jonathan Martin of Politico and Sam Youngman of Reuters have been covering this. Jonathan Martin, you have spent some time following Joe Biden around the Obama-Biden campaign. (LAUGHTER) JUDY WOODRUFF: You're getting your tie adjusted right now. We want to you have your tie on straight for this. Jonathan, just based on watching... JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO: I'm here and ready to go. (LAUGHTER) JUDY WOODRUFF: Based on watching Joe Biden on the trail -- and you know what the Obama-Biden team has been doing. JONATHAN MARTIN: Yes. JUDY WOODRUFF: How did -- how did Joe Biden come across tonight? What did he accomplish? JONATHAN MARTIN: Judy, this was the full Joe Biden, Joe Biden in full tonight. What you saw this evening here at Centre College was what people who have been watching him on the campaign trail, not just this year, but for the last 40 years in American politics, have seen. He is demonstrative. He is at times over the top. He is what he is. Some folks like it. Others don't. But it's raw. It's authentic. And it's certainly -- it's real. Look, I think he had some clear blows tonight on Paul Ryan on substance, certainly on the issue about whether or not Ryan wanted to have stimulus projects back home in Wisconsin for his district, on questions about the entitlements in this country, and certainly on the Romney comment over the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay taxes. The big question to me is, was Biden's Bidenisms, his mannerisms, his reaction in so many of those shots that we saw on our TV screen tonight, does that overshadow some of what I think were some good moments of substance tonight for Democrats? GWEN IFILL: Sam Youngman, you're home tonight in Kentucky, but you have been spending a lot of time on the road traveling not only with Mitt Romney, but also with Paul Ryan. Did he come with a plan tonight that he executed? SAM YOUNGMAN, Reuters: Well, I don't know that he was ever able to get whatever plan he might have had into motion, because Joe Biden was just on offense from the very beginning. Look, Paul Ryan told us yesterday in St. Pete, he said, you know, look, this is going to be my first big debate on the big stage. Joe Biden has done this a hundred times. And I think it showed tonight. I think Biden's message was basically, hey, welcome to my turf, rookie. The thing that Paul Ryan I think did very well tonight was keep his composure. I think that people that -- people that like Joe Biden really liked what they saw tonight. People that don't like Joe Biden probably found him very obnoxious and overbearing. My sense is probably that Paul Ryan probably scored points with quite a few people when he asked the vice president to stop interrupting, that the American people would be better served by a better, more I guess polite debate. I don't know that -- you know, I don't know that Paul Ryan did any real damage tonight. But he certainly didn't draw any blood. JUDY WOODRUFF: Jonathan Martin, to the extent the Obama campaign was feeling the need tonight for the vice president to get them back on track, is there a sense that the vice president was able to pull that off tonight? JONATHAN MARTIN: Well, that's what the Obama folks are certainly saying right now. I had one senior Obama official e-mail me and say, if you are talking about mannerisms, then you lost, which is to say that the Romney focus on the vice president's mannerisms was a concession that on substance they had lost the evening. I think the point that Christina made earlier is right on. For partisans on both sides tonight, you felt good. Ryan got in there, his first debate, against a 40-year veteran of American politics. He did OK. And Biden, I think he showed the kind of offense, the aggressiveness that so many Democrats, Judy, were hoping for from the president last week. I think Democrats are feeling a heck of a lot better tonight than they were last week in Denver. The big question to me is, what did that remaining middle out there tonight in places like Ohio, in Florida and Virginia, what did they think? Were they turned off by Biden's interrupting, by Biden's sighs and his laughs, or were they, you know, content to think, well, that's just Biden being Biden? He is an old politician who talks a lot. And he is who he is. And the fact is, you know, on substance, perhaps they liked what he had to say more. I really thought that when he went after Ryan on entitlements, saying where I come from, folks can't afford that, was really effective. GWEN IFILL: Yes. Let me... JONATHAN MARTIN: And then, towards the end of the debate -- real fast -- when Biden said -- or when Martha Raddatz asked the question of Paul Ryan, do women in this country have to worry about legal abortion, the pause that Ryan gave, I thought, for a lot of suburban women was damaging. GWEN IFILL: Let me ask that question to Sam Youngman, because Paul Ryan doesn't spend a lot of time talking about foreign policy on the campaign trail, even though that was the bulk of this debate tonight. I wonder how much he seemed -- did he seem to you like he was cramming for that, and also did he seem like he was prepared for that question about abortion and Catholicism at the end? SAM YOUNGMAN: Well, I don't think there is any question that the Romney-Ryan ticket would have preferred that all 90 minutes tonight would have been about the economy, with maybe 10 to 15 minutes just on Benghazi. But that's not what the debate was. And I think Congressman Ryan showed that he had been really cramming on foreign policy. He showed, I think, great familiarity with the situation in Afghanistan, even though I think the Romney-Ryan ticket continues to struggle to sort of show what they would do differently in Afghanistan. Quite frankly, my brother is a veteran of Afghanistan, and I was thrilled to hear it discussed so much tonight. But I do think that one of the criticisms you will hear from Republicans probably going forward was that there wasn't enough discussion of the economy tonight. I don't -- I tend to agree with Jonathan. I saw a very long pause from Congressman Ryan when the discussion turned to abortion. I don't think he was probably prepared to discuss that, at least not in such a point-blank fashion. He did get some questions on it yesterday. But I don't think that he was ready for that to be such a hot debate topic. JONATHAN MARTIN: Yes. JUDY WOODRUFF: Sam, Sam Youngman, and Jonathan Martin, we thank you both for joining us. Appreciate it. SAM YOUNGMAN: Thank you. JONATHAN MARTIN: Thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF: And now we are back in Washington, and we want to go once again to our colleagues here in the other studio -- and, Jeffrey Brown, back to you. JEFFREY BROWN: I want to pick up with you, Christina, pick up on what we were hearing about the mannerisms vs. substance, the screens we were talking about, the dual screens, sometimes the split-screen. It depends how people watch. CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: It really does. And you are influenced by what you are seeing on that screen and maybe the second screen. Pew Research Center just came out with a poll today that showed that 11 percent of people that are watching these debates were watching it with another screen, whether that is your laptop on your lap, your computer there with you, or maybe it's on your iPhone. And that means you are monitoring your social networks. You're posting on Facebook. You're reading what people are saying on Twitter. And you are influenced by what others are saying. You think about last week and the reaction to a lot of that, people were saying immediately that the president lost that debate and that sort of meme began very early on in the debate. Well, this evening, people felt like Joe Biden came out swinging, was aggressive, and that all surfaced. But one of the things, these campaigns are both really trying to look at young voters. The president has an advantage with them at this point, but the Romney campaign is really trying to target them too. They have a very strong digital campaign that they are trying to reach them through all of these different social networks to be able to share photos, images, personal stories that you heard tonight in that debate, and they're really trying to push that on social media. JEFFREY BROWN: So a general and a specific question. Does that change the way we take in these debates? MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Oh, enormously. JEFFREY BROWN: Yes? MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Because, in the past, people would be basically glued to the screen for most of the time. And, you know, one big difference, I think it is so much better, because we were talking a moment ago about 1976, when Gerald Ford was talking about the Soviets not dominating Eastern Europe. The polling for the first 24 to 48 hours found that many Americans didn't realize that that was a gaffe. It didn't hurt Ford until elite commentators, like all of us, said that the president had said something that he shouldn't have said. JEFFREY BROWN: Present company excluded. (LAUGHTER) MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Well, we were not doing it at that time. But, nowadays, you wouldn't have to wait the 48 hours, because, with Twitter, instantly, a lot of people would have known that that was a very bad thing to say. JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, specifically, on this debate, does it feel like the substance I mean, and the look, does it feel like it will be one that is remembered for something specific? MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Oh, I think so. If Barack Obama wins, I think this is the night he turned things around. And the other thing is that the times that people win a vice presidential debate is when they control the airspace, they look more like a plausible president. And I think, tonight, Joe Biden largely learned from another figure in American politics. And that was the way Mitt Romney controlled that airspace last week. JEFFREY BROWN: OK, Christina, quickly. CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: I will just point out really quick that Twitter also asked people to do fact-checking. And Joe Biden criticized Congressman Ryan for voting for the wars, it was pretty clear very quickly you could say, actually, Joe Biden also voted for those wars, and he left that out, which is something you might need to read in your newspaper the next day, as opposed to instantaneously. JEFFREY BROWN: Christina Bellantoni, Michael Beschloss, thanks so much -- back to you guys. GWEN IFILL: Thanks. Thanks, Jeff. Back here with Michael -- Michael. (LAUGHTER) GWEN IFILL: Mark Shields and David Brooks. MARK SHIELDS: Yes. That's right. DAVID BROOKS: Back with the people after the elitists over there. (LAUGHTER) MARK SHIELDS: Good to be with you, Gail. (LAUGHTER) GWEN IFILL: Exactly where I am going here. Thank you, Michael. (LAUGHTER) GWEN IFILL: So let's go back to the war of Scranton vs. Janesville. This is in the closing statements, as well as throughout. They were both trying to prove who was realer. Who won that fight? DAVID BROOKS: Joe Biden won that fight. I mean, he was more real. I mean, it's a different reality. I mean, it's Scranton. It's "Honeymooners" vs. Michael J. Keaton. I mean, they are just from different eras. And so -- but I do think Biden naturally talks in the language of the kitchen table. And Ryan naturally talks in the language of Jack Kemp, the Empower America, Heritage Foundation. And so I think, if you just went with realer, I think Biden would have -- you have to say Biden. JUDY WOODRUFF: And he knew the unemployment rate in his birthplace. MARK SHIELDS: He did. I thought that, tonight, you found out why Barack Obama picked Joe Biden in 2008. Barack Obama has the coolness of Paul Ryan cubed, and even more -- and less bombastic, or garrulous, or gregarious, or passionate, as Joe Biden is. And I think Joe -- he realized the need he had. And I don't think he ever probably realized it fully until tonight, how much he needed it. And I think that -- that -- it's a complement to Obama's coolness, that Joe may be tough as a steady diet, I mean, 365, but when you want somebody to go out and make the case about real people, he is authentic and he is persuasive. JUDY WOODRUFF: He doesn't lack for passion. When he's making the case, he just, -- it just exudes from every... MARK SHIELDS: It really does. MARK SHIELDS: It really does. Yes. DAVID BROOKS: I have got a picture of my phone with a water -- super-soaker water gun running around. I mean, he's just out there. I would say, though, that he -- I don't think this changed the campaign particularly. I think it an extraordinary vice presidential debates that changes the campaign. I think it improves the mood for Democrats. Whether it changes -- it might -- I really do not think it will change the momentum. GWEN IFILL: Is it possible that may have been the point for the Democrats? You were talking about the independents before, but the Democrats, who were so spirited... DAVID BROOKS: Yes. MARK SHIELDS: Let me disagree with David. GWEN IFILL: OK. MARK SHIELDS: I think the mood is -- was the campaign. I mean, this week the number of Democrats I talked to who were down on Barack Obama, who were perplexed, who didn't know what had happened, what was wrong, I mean, ones who had been picking out their inaugural garb, it seemed, just 10 days ago, now, all of a sudden, they were really apprehensive and angry and disappointed. And I think that that mood had been changed. JUDY WOODRUFF: In the president. MARK SHIELDS: In the president and the prospects, and the idea that Mitt Romney was going to be president and... DAVID BROOKS: Is anybody going to tell a pollster a different question? I mean, to me, the only people who could possibly tell a pollster a different answer would be independents who are turned off, oh, it's just politics as usual? And I think that would be a reasonable -- quite a small number. JUDY WOODRUFF: What is this they say? Democrats fall in love with their candidates, and Republicans... MARK SHIELDS: That's right. Republicans fall in line. JUDY WOODRUFF: It's all about emotion. MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Well, I think that the message obviously was intended for working-class and blue-collar. GWEN IFILL: Well, we will know in the hours to come whether they got that, Michael -- Michael Shields, Mark Shields. (LAUGHTER) MARK SHIELDS: Gail, just one final thing. (LAUGHTER) MARK SHIELDS: I do think -- I think the split-screen that's -- I mean... GWEN IFILL: Watching the reactions. MARK SHIELDS: Oh, I mean, I think that could be a problem for Joe as the day goes forward and we see a lot of tape of that. GWEN IFILL: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you very much. That ends our coverage of the only debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. We will have live coverage of the remaining presidential debates here on PBS. Next week, President Obama and former Governor Romney will meet for the second time at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. CNN's Candy Crowley will be the moderator for that meeting. JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will see you then and right here tomorrow night at our regular "NewsHour" time. But our debate analysis continues online with political editor Christina Bellantoni on our after-hours live stream. For now, I'm Judy Woodruff. GWEN IFILL: And I'm Gwen Ifill. Thank you, and good night.

Report Depicts Lance Armstrong as Ring Leader of Doping Ring

Shields, Brooks Predict Ryan to Show Bipartisanship

Supreme Court Hears Affirmative Action Challenges

Pakastanis Protest in Support of Yousafzai

Shields, Brooks: Biden Has Passion, Ryan Keeps Cool

Congress Probes Security Failures in Libya

As Goes Jefferson County so Goes Colo.? Candidates Make Case

Political Checklist: Vice Presidential Debate Night

Syrian Plane Routed from Moscow Forced to Land in Turkey

Read Full Article »

Latest On Twitter

Follow Real Clear Politics

Real Clear Politics Video

More RCP Video Highlights »