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Sunday, December 11, 2016

You can tell who won a debate by which side ends up complaining about the moderator.

Going into the debate, the Drudge Report and the Daily Caller harped on the fact that President Obama had attended the wedding of vice presidential debate’s moderator Martha Raddatz in 1991. That marriage ended more than a decade ago, but apparently Drudge had a suspicion that he was going to need to run some defense for Paul Ryan. And he was right.

Paul Ryan didn’t embarrass himself so much as he let the vice president embarrass him. With Biden’s help, Ryan came off as naïve on foreign policy, sketchy on economics and scary on women’s issues.

How did Biden succeed in neutralizing Paul Ryan when Ryan was making nearly the same case in nearly the same way Mitt Romney did last week? He broke the Gish Gallop.

Named after the creationist Duane Gish, the Gallop is a tactic wherein a debater spews so many lies and half-truths that rebutting each one is impossible. The technique leaves their opponent shaken and unable to make clear arguments.

Biden clearly made the decision that he was going to impede Ryan’s ability to lie confidently. Ryan went at the vice president with distortions on every issue from Iran to abortion. And Biden refused to let any go. He used his facial reactions and interjections to contest the lies, demanded his equal time and tied it all together with his somewhat mocking, Senatorial use of “my friend.” What was key to his strategy is that he actually spent little of his time rebutting facts. Instead he quickly bridged to his own arguments.

Biden—like Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention—presented a cohesive narrative of the last four years. But his history built to an attack on Ryan’s values, which will linger after the facts and figures are forgotten. Biden spoke on behalf of the middle class, asking, “When will these guys take responsibility?” By saying “these guys” he effectively connected Ryan and Romney to Bush-era Republicans who created the financial mess we’re now in.

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