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Could Biden Be Obama’s Improbable Henry Higgins?

Bloomberg View Memo Pad

Could Biden Be Obama’s Improbable Henry Higgins?


Who woulda thunk that Joe Biden, of all people, would drag a onetime rockstar president over the finish line? Only a few months ago, plenty of Democrats wanted the vice president dumped from the ticket in favor of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Now he is saving Barack Obama’s bacon.

Historically, vice-presidential debates have had little impact on the outcome of presidential elections, but there are exceptions and 2012 may prove to be one of them.

In 2004, the Democratic challenger, John Kerry, was up 8 points in several polls after besting President George W. Bush in their first debate. But then Vice President Dick Cheney drove home Bush’s national-security message in his debate with John Edwards and won on points, not likeability, which was never Cheney’s strong suit. Bush’s polling stabilized and he went on to win a close election.

Unless Obama lays eggs in the two next debates, I suspect the same dynamic will be at work this year. Biden may have irritated some voters — the instant polls were split — and Paul Ryan’s smooth and intelligent performance makes him a likely Republican nominee for president in the future. But the big takeaway from this contest will be that Biden stopped, or at least slowed, Mitt Romney’s momentum, re-energized panicky Democrats and scored heavily with two key constituencies: senior citizens and women.

The contrast between Biden’s performance and that of his boss in Denver a week earlier couldn’t have been starker. Where Obama never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity (as former Israeli Foreign minister Abba Eban liked to say about the Arabs), Biden jumped on every one of Ryan’s arguments.

When Obama’s debate-prep team analyzes which of Biden’s counterpunches landed best with focus groups, the president will cherry-pick the answers and try to deliver a calmer, more presidential and more selective version of his running mate’s performance.

This isn’t to claim that Biden “won”; unlike the presidential forum in Denver, the verdict on the Kentucky contest broke down along party lines, though the conservative pundit Dick Morris wrote in a mid-debate Twitter post: “can’t believe how weak Ryan is.”

Jonathan Alter

Jonathan Alter is a bestselling author and journalist who served as senior editor for Newsweek from 1983 to 2011. He is currently a lead columnist for Bloomberg View as well as a contributing correspondent to NBC News. Alter's 2010 book, The Promise: President Obama, Year One, reached #3 on the New York Times Best Seller list.

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  1. Dominick Vila October 15, 2012

    VP Biden’s performance during his debate may have slowed down Romney’s momentum slightly, but it will not make a big difference. Few Americans pay attention to VP debates and comments, and his is not an exception to that rule. The one who could make a difference is Bill Clinton, but he has been awfully quiet since Obama’s first debate.

    1. grammyjill October 15, 2012

      I’ve seen him doing a few speaches. He’s on the trail now.

  2. bcarreiro October 15, 2012

    biden didnt hold back and thats what the american people want is the truth……..clarissa ward should have moderated and then u would have seen no holds barred.

    1. montanabill October 15, 2012

      I don’t think you would really want ‘no holds barred’. A young and fit Ryan would have put an old, obnoxious gas bag on the floor with all his shiny new teeth laying next to him.

      1. William Deutschlander October 15, 2012

        montanabill – crawl back under your rock, you are not sufficiently inteligent enough to realize that you are not one of the 1%. As such you are going to be screwed over by a Republican Cartel Administration.

        1. montanabill October 15, 2012

          Put smiley face winking here.

          1. Sand_Cat October 15, 2012

            The smiles and winking of a witless idiot, like the last GOP VP nominee. Ryan might actually be a [very slight] improvement over her. At least he has some brains to back his arrogance.

          2. montanabill October 15, 2012

            Next time you manage to get elected to be a governor, let me know so I’ll have reason to pay attention.

          3. DurdyDawg October 15, 2012

            montanabull.. The only response to all you’re idiotic spittle is:

          4. mikecoatl October 15, 2012

            I don’t expect you will be winking and smiling on November 6th.

          5. montanabill October 15, 2012

            That will depend. I and my employees will be smiling, or I will be alone working on lay-off notices and a note warning those remaining to start looking for their own health insurance.

          6. grammyjill October 15, 2012

            So you’re one of those that will force your employees to vote against themselves?

          7. montanabill October 15, 2012

            I won’t be forcing to them vote for anyone or even suggesting to them who to vote for, but I hire smart people and they will not be voting for more of what we have seen the last four years. They want the economy to return. They understand that the reason they are upper and middle class is that they have good paying jobs, not because of government welfare. They know that our business expands because of the profits we earn and are not eager to see those confiscated to be distributed to people not willing to work. They understand the cost of insurance because I keep them informed. They have seen those costs skyrocket because of Obamacare and they are smart enough to have learned what the future costs of it will be. We are in the healthcare business and we can see the impact, unlike people like yourself who simply want someone else to bear the burden and believe the garbage you have been fed. They won’t be voting against themselves, they will be voting to restore an American future.

          8. grammyjill October 15, 2012

            Ok, you sound like a smart guy but you do have a few things wrong. Obamacare has not been fully implamented as yet. When it does your insurance costs will go down. Our insurance costs doubled this year, because the company knows they have to drop it next year per the new law, so they are trying to get as much profit as they can before the law takes effect.
            Nobody bears my burden for me. Ever! I worked my ass off for several years until I got hurt ON the job. I would still like to be working but three doctors ganged up on me and said no. So, I watch everything I can from the house senate and white house. I unfortunatly have plenty of time for it. So, I kinda know what I’m talking about.

          9. montanabill October 16, 2012

            They will not go down according to the experts I’m familiar with. And what will happen is that the flow of providers who are leaving the system will significantly increase as their compensations are arbitrarily reduced to meet Obamacare and Medicare budget goals. Instead of best and brightest practicing medicine, you will have the lower tiers practicing while the top level go into research or get completely out. It is already happening and will only accelerate. Wait times for diagnosis and treatment will significantly increase because you simply can’t have more people seeing fewer providers and have it any other way.

          10. grammyjill October 16, 2012

            Last months job numbers, fully 2/3 went into medical.

            Granted only a few doctors, but we have had a lack of doctors for years because they are all specializing instead of general practice, but from what I’ve read we will start getting more gp’s soon. But alot of nurses and nurse practioners got jobs last month. so, chill out and wait and see. Don’t be such a pessimist.

          11. montanabill October 16, 2012

            Sorry, I deal with them on a daily basis.

          12. highpckts October 15, 2012

            Montana – are you lucky enough to be working for one of the many companies that are owned by the Koch Bros? They have issued veiled threats to all their workers that if they don’t vote the “correct” way their jobs could be in peril!! Now that is the Republican way!! We will soon be known as the United Corporate States of America!!

          13. montanabill October 16, 2012

            Actually, no. I’m lucky enough to be working for three of the companies I have created. Oh, I’m sorry. The companies that I didn’t build. As I said in another post, I hire smart people so I don’t have to threaten them or try to tell them how to vote. They know we all do well when the companies do well. The companies do better when the economy is good. We have had four years of watching the world and economy collapse around us because we had only a campaigner and speech maker in the Oval Office. We are well poised for growth just waiting for someone who will quit demonizing us, threatening us and imposing impediments to business.

          14. Hillbilly October 16, 2012

            In other words you are telling your workers(if you have any) how to vote just like the Koch Brothers and other rich business owners and are threatening their jobs if they don’t vote for Romney and Ryan. This shows how far and how low Republicans will go to get their man elected. Your tactics and that of other Republican business owners is how Countries come to be dictatorships. Small businesses have done better under Obama than they ever did under Bush and the Republicans yet people like you want to bring back the same system that sent this Country in a downward spiral and threaten your workers with job loss if Romney and Ryan don’t win so they can put this country back in a downward spiral. That shows how little of your brain you are using.

          15. montanabill October 16, 2012

            As I said previously, I hire smart people. I won’t and don’t tell them how to vote or threaten them. But they know who is threatening their jobs. They know who demonizes business and personal success. They know who is threatening to raise their taxes. We are in the healthcare business and we know what Obamacare means to everyone’s health care costs and access to good care. We know that Medicare is driving physicians to either open cash only offices, leave their practices entirely or become an employee of a hospital.
            In case you have noticed, which is pretty obvious, this country is in a downward spiral and has been for four years. There are fewer people working today than on the first day Obama took office. People’s incomes are lower today than when he took office. Food costs are higher and gasoline costs are double. We are so far down that when a tiny improvement appears for a day or two, people think its reason for cheering. When everything goes down again, we wait for the next blip of good news. It is a ridiculous way to live. Romney is not Bush. The Democrats no longer have complete control of spending. That ‘same system’ hogwash you have been fed is simply not possible.

      2. bcarreiro October 15, 2012

        a battle of wits goes to the wise………….you sure your not from kansas.

        1. montanabill October 15, 2012

          In that case, it was still no contest. Ryan could have still won without saying anything.

          1. mikecoatl October 15, 2012

            If the benchmark for ‘winning’ was being an arrogant and conceited liar, then Ryan won hands down.

          2. montanabill October 15, 2012

            I’m afraid Biden’s boss holds that title.

      3. barbarahugh October 15, 2012

        A debat is NOT physical but with Truth and Wisdom Non that applies to Ryan , One can be young and strong but still very IGNORANT , Blind , Hard Headed ,
        and above ALL a LIER !!!!!!!!

        1. montanabill October 15, 2012

          I suppose you understand, not being ignorant and all, that LIER is one who lies waiting, like in ambush?

          1. barbarahugh October 15, 2012


          2. sf October 15, 2012

            I believe that Joe Biden is a much better vice president, period. Any person that can sit there and talk about their religion and put it in front of our faces that he will take away a woman’s right to choose, is not to the best interest of the american people. I find it very strange that they care more for the fetus than all the children in this country that are hungry and need an education. They would rather spend millions, maybe billions on prisons, now that they are private and lots of $$ to be made, than to fund head-start, and not bash PBS, who wont be sold to the republicans, like Fox. It is enought to make you sick.
            We, the Democratic party, are going to stand strong on all this mindless bull***t, Ryan had 90 minutes to tell us his plan, Nothing came out of his mouth except to undermine our President and to say how wonderful he is, and how unique Romney is!

      4. Warren Nicholson October 15, 2012

        Once again you prove to be the spokeman for the right. When the facts are against you, threaten violence.

        1. montanabill October 16, 2012

          It was in response to another loony post.

  3. William Deutschlander October 15, 2012

    President Obama does not need to be Presidential in the debate, we already know he is Presidential.

    Like Biden, President Obama MUST counter every sick lie that Romney spews forth with vigor and determination, interupting as required and stating the truth.

    I watched the first debate and like President Obama I was stunned by the agressive flow of lies and deceit spewing from Romney’s mouth. It was apparent that truth is not a Mormon beleif.

    This is a crucial election for the 99%, if the Republican Cartel takes control of our Democracy, we will immediately become a Plutocracy, that will evolve to an Autocracy, that will morph into a Dictatorship. Voters you have one vote, use that vote in YOUR and your families best interest.

    1. Tuyen Lam Seaton October 15, 2012

      I do like this idea, “President Obama does not need to be Presidential in the debate, we already know he is Presidential….watched the first debate and like President Obama I was stunned by the agressive flow of lies and deceit spewing from Romney’s mouth. It was apparent that truth is not a Mormon beleif.”

    2. CAThinker October 15, 2012

      Well said… What I want to see is someone argue as vociferously as we believers believe. I believe in Obama and his policies and would like to see him argue as aggressively as we do here in this forum and other places. Therein lies the disappointment with Round 1 – his performance suggested that he did not believe as fervently as we all did. You’re right, we already know he’s presidential – I would like to see him come out like a street fight… call each and every one of NitMitt’s myths and falsehoods and force him to explain his position and why it’s changed… Simple, right?

    3. highpckts October 15, 2012

      Oh wrong! Obama needs to show Romney what a President looks and acts like! Romney thinks lying is how you do it! Yes, he needs to be called out on every lie! I want to see him sweat and make some very stupid mistakes! He can’t hide who he really is forever!!

  4. lana ward October 15, 2012

    Obama was on downers, Joe Biden was on laughing gas. He was nothing but an inconsiderate old fool. Everything of serious nature-he laughed at. He interupted 85 times, something to be real proud of. Since the debate. more states are in play. Thanks old buzzard!! Romney-Ryan

    1. mikecoatl October 15, 2012

      They were in play before, genius. And Obama is still up in Ohio.

    2. Gregg Lapkin October 15, 2012

      I understand some people not liking his style. But, he responded with strong answers to all of Ryan’s arguments. Obama on the other hand just look down and said nothing. Whether you like Biden or not; he did exactly what he had to do.

      1. lana ward October 15, 2012

        Fact checkers found that many of his interuptions were lies

        1. Hillbilly October 16, 2012

          Whose fact checkers?

          1. lana ward October 16, 2012

            Not the MSM, you can’t believe anything they say. They are traitors and should all be hung!

      2. lana ward June 23, 2013

        Biden is a rude old buzzard, a lying buzzard at that. Cheshire cat

    3. TZToronto October 15, 2012

      When hypocrites speak out of both sides of their mouths, responsible people must interrupt. To let the inconsistencies linger is to allow the hypocrite to claim both sides. No, Biden was right to interrupt as often as necessary. Ryan cannot be allowed to claim both sides of the argument. He must either choose a side or be nailed to the wall for pandering.

      1. lana ward October 15, 2012

        Fact checkers found that many of his rude interuptions were lies

    4. grammyjill October 15, 2012

      Ok, he interupted 16 times to Ryan’s 15 times. I watched it again and counted.
      Now I’ll give you a FACT. Sensata in Il. closes on Nov5. Their jobs are being sent to China through Bain Capitol. The workers begged Romney to help them keep their jobs. That fell on deaf ears. That’s because the man that owns 51% of Senata stock will make millions on the deal. That man is your hero Romney.

  5. emadis41 October 15, 2012

    It is nor Joe, it is the truth and Joe presented the truth. Obama needs to challange the ideas of the Romney/Ryan about the 23 Million unemployed, the cuts to the rich 1%, the deficit that will remain according to their budget of $1.2 trillion annually. The 47% Untouchables Citizens. His lies about Obamacare, his lies about the recovery. Let the voters know the truth.

  6. barbarahugh October 15, 2012

    I just wish President Obama call Romney WHAT HE truly is a DOWN RIGHT LIER!!!
    And above all tell it to his FACE on National T.V. debate !! Just say it GOV. YOU ARE A LIER
    you have fooled people if you are so great about how to get rid of all these debts ,why didn’t you start by NOT accepting so much millions and put those millions from the Koch brothers and the rest to work for the USA!!! With all the monies being spent on trying to get you to be President show us you care pay some students tuitions , give to the veterans fund ,help some elderlies out.
    When you tell the stories about all these people that are hurting pull out of your pockets a couple of thousands (which is like pennies to you) and give ..You put a face of hardship prove it !! Because to a millionaire that gives 3 mil to charity that is like a dime to the poor!!!Goodness all those millions for you to became President could of being put to open new jobs alone…IMAGINE THAT !!!! More work people will like you and thank you for it!!!How can repulican women still want to vote for you ??They will not be permitted to choose about parenthood , he and the rest will control your body ..How awful!!!

  7. DurdyDawg October 15, 2012

    C’mon!! You’re deciding this on the past, Jon boy.. After the next debate, if needed, then tell it like you see it. I like Joe but you’re giving up on Obama who (up until that night) had held his own in every other appearance. Suddenly he lost his edge? Maybe took a ‘dumb’ pill? Give the guy a little credit. I saw it as a strategy (which worked).. Now the only thing Romney can do is defend his lies and Obama won’t be criticized with being too aggressive because Romney had done that in the first debate with applauds from his minions. It was inevitable, no matter how the president would have affronted Romney, he was going to be criticized.. The way he chose (in my opinion) was very sly.. And all he had to do was face his followers, admit his mistake and continue convincing everybody through his confidence and leadership abilities (hardly one insult from the opposition). The next Debate will convince everyone who deserves to be re-elected.. Then maybe, just maybe, the last debate will focus on national and international interests instead of bashing on each others failures and calling each other names. Stay tuned.

  8. tavias51 October 15, 2012


  9. ridemybroom October 16, 2012

    think that first debate was a set up…wanted to see what mitt had to say and how many lies he had to go through to make his point…in this debate the truth will come out and when ob starts to hit below the belt he isnt gonna stop….dont think mitt knows exactly whats hes in for…then in the end we will see whos laffing…ob if you need my broom to slide it where the sun dont shine…here it is just say the words….will be sent immediately !
    Honestly ppl you want to elect a lying tax evader to the highest post in the country…afterall he did say he doesnt pay taxes on a lot of his money….think people…. i know you not ignorant …or are you !?


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