1. Biden will attack Romney-Ryan credibility — The first presidential debate was marked by Mitt Romney radically altering his political stances so much that he was fact checked by his own campaign. If you think of argument from the Greek perspective as a confluence of ethos, logos, and pathos, robbing the Republicans of ethos by successfully eroding their credibility provides two advantages. First, every statement made by either Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan will be viewed through a lens of distrust putting them behind an 8-ball.
Second, it provides a convenient excuse for the first debate. Indeed, Obama’s immediate response to his subpar performance was his shock that Mitt Romney was so different on stage than during the rest of the campaign. Bill Clinton welcomed back “Moderate Mitt.” Be prepared to hear Romney referred to as “working in a boardroom” too. This is a line I’ve noticed cropping up among Obama campaign folks that casts Romney as just pitching a sale and telling every audience what they want to hear. It also reminds voters that Mitt Romney is a plutocrat divorced from the lives of real people.
If Joe Biden can do half as well as Fox News did in clowning Paul Ryan on budget math then he’ll have succeeded in this role.
2. Paul Ryan will launch a barrage of numbers — Don’t get me wrong, most of these numbers will be fodder for fact checkers the next day, but Ryan’s primary argumentative tactic is to spew a bevy of out of context numbers in order to stymie opponents unable to respond immediately. For example, look at this confrontation between Paul Ryan and Barack Obama at the health care summit:
Most of these numbers are wrong. The “Medicare actuary” Ryan quotes concluded that report siding with Obama. Politico labeled Ryan’s assessment of the impact as plain wrong. But the atmospherics of the exchange generated tons of buzz for Ryan. He was fast and confident. He cited numbers. But most importantly, the administration was at a loss to respond immediately because it takes time to unpack what’s wrong with Ryan’s critique. Thus, in the moment, the administration looked like it was “taken to school” rather than snowjobbed by a fast talking charlatan.
This is Biden’s biggest concern — that Ryan will appear confident and in command of the business of government while Biden is left without on the spot answers. Biden will surely have scoured Ryan’s most popular citations and tried to memorize responses (because the Commission on Presidential Debates are morons and don’t allow notes that could serve as a check on one side unilaterally memorizing an obscure and disingenuous attack to win the night).
3. Ryan’s budget won’t come up as much as people think — The election is between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and while the liberal base would love to rip up Paul Ryan on his proposed “Road to
Prosperity Poverty” budget on a national stage, it’s not going to happen. The Romney campaign has already proven quick to distance themselves from Ryan’s budget by claiming they agree in principle but not in details — and by details they mean anything that Democrats might criticize.
Biden will steer clear of direct attacks on the Ryan budget and instead focus only on specific provisions that Romney has supported publicly. Those may not be the more radical stances in the budget, but that doesn’t make them any less unpalatable to most Americans.
4. First Benghazi answer — The Republicans are very up in arms over the attack on the American diplomatic facility in Benghazi. The attacks, which corresponded with widespread outrage throughout the Muslim world were originally linked with those uprisings. Now it looks as though the attacks were independently launched. Apparently the Democrats are evil because they logically connected those two in the immediate aftermath. This debate will feature the administration’s first widespread response. Given that this is the only glaring weakness in the Obama foreign policy record (at least vis a vis Republicans — I fully respect that Libertarians and Greens may have other issues), this answer could lock up Obama’s foreign policy credibility and foreclose the issue in advance of the final Obama-Romney debate, or diminish Obama’s lead in his strongest arena.
5. No big gaffes — Look people, Joe Biden is labeled a gaffe machine because he says unpolitic things. Most of the time, these statements rile the right and befuddle the media and are respected by the real people he’s talking to. He makes these “gaffes” when he’s in a diner somewhere, or in front of a partisan audience and forgets that cameras are watching him and he just gets “real.” That won’t happen in a debate. He’s been in politics for 40 years and he’s a sterling performer on a debate stage. There will be no gaffes. The Onion will have to create some for us.