Joe Biden-Paul Ryan Debate: What the Pundits Are Saying

Vice Presidential Debate Joe Biden Laughing - H 2012
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Vice Presidential Debate Joe Biden Laughing - H 2012

Most of the reactions centered on the vice president's facial expressions, with Chris Wallace calling him "openly contemptuous and disrespectful" and Rachel Maddow arguing he was simply trying to send a message that Ryan was lying.

Vice President Joe Biden and Paul Ryan faced off in their one and only debate Thursday night.

The Democratic incumbent and Republican hopeful debated topics including abortion, taxes, entitlement reform, Afghanistan and Iran during the 90-minute event, which took place at Centre College, in Danville, Ky. and was moderated by ABC's Martha Raddatz.

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After the debate ended, the pundits immediately took to the air to give their opinions, with a majority of the talk centering on Biden's body language.

CNN analysts largely saw the debate as a draw, with Wolf Blitzer declaring it a “strong debate with clear differences” between the candidates. He said Biden “came out swinging” and noted “unlike President Obama, he immediately raised the issue of [Mitt] Romney’s 47 percent comment.”

David Gergen called the debate “a draw” when it came to substance, but said Ryan won the debate on style, citing “Biden’s dismissive laughs” and “interruptions.”

Republican strategist Mary Matalin agreed, saying “Style matters. That condescending smirking and laughing. It was akin to [Al] Gore’s sigh. You would really be surprised by how much tone plays into things.”

But democratic activist Van Jones saw the vice president’s interruptions as one of his greatest strengths.

“Biden put a lot of fact checkers out of work,” Jones said. “He was fact checking in real time. I thought that was awesome.”

Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist, said Biden bought Obama a week of enthusiasm to help his campaign make it to the next presidential debate, but said “they could have taken away his [Biden’s] laughing gas a little earlier.” Castellanos also praised Ryan for proving “himself unexpectedly competent on foreign policy,” and coming off as pleasant and friendly -- not at all like “those scary Republicans” he said Obama has talked about on the campaign trail.

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Soledad O'Brien praised Raddatz's moderating, saying "she was 100 percent in control.”

Fox News Channel's Chris Wallace, meanwhile, had harsh criticism of Biden.

"I think I have watched almost every presidential and vice presidential debate since the first four Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960, and thinking back over the last few minutes, I don't think I've ever seen one where one participant was so openly disrespectful to another as Biden was tonight," he said. "The smirks, the headshakes, the mugging -- he was openly contemptuous and disrespectful. It wasn't just the facial gestures; it was the words. He dismissed Ryan's arguments as 'malarkey,' 'a bunch of stuff,' 'I don't know what those guys are talking about' and 'bluster.' It was an unprecedented performance."

Among the issues he thought Ryan did well on was taxes, while he thought Biden scored on Afghanistan.

His Fox News colleague Bret Baier attempted to analyze Biden's reactions.

"It was largely a cheerful affair, at least on the vice president's side," he said. "For much of the debate he smiled and laughed in reaction to Ryan's answers, in perhaps an effort to diminish Ryan on stage. It will be interesting to see how that played at home on the split screen -- whether he came off as smug ... or as downplaying Ryan."

Baier added that Ryan "maintained his cool" while Biden always made sure to get "the last word."

"Ryan came across as looking more respectful, but perhaps to some viewers as more weak," he said.

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Democratic strategist Joe Trippi argued that Biden went too far with his smirking.

"It was a very strong debate, but it was diminished by the smirking, and he overdid it," he said. "I was very surprised how strong Ryan was on foreign policy. I think women were up for grabs here, and I think Biden scored points with his comment that the last thing we need is another ground war in the Middle East. But I found [the smirking] condescending and overdone."

MSNBC's Steve Hays was another who called Biden disrespectful.

"There was a moment at the beginning, where voters were not paying attention, where Ryan thanked Joe Biden, and [Biden] was smirking, and I think that came across as very disrespectful and how he handled the rest of the night," he said.

Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said the debate itself was solid.

"It was a fiery debate," he said. "I don't think I can remember seeing a debate as fiery as this one. I think that Republicans watching will say that Paul Ryan won."

"Really?" replied Rachel Maddow.

Responded Schmidt: "I think Democrats will be fired up about Biden's performance, I think he did what he needed to do -- calm the Democratic panic in the base. But his smiling and laughing and grinning -- if you look at the recent history of the debates -- Al Gore sighing, George H.W. Bush looking at his watch -- so many debates are dominated by personality quirks, as opposed to the substance of the debate. I think Democrats will love it, Republicans will hate it, but the small electorate in the middle, how will they read it?"

Maddow said she thought Biden's facial expressions were intended to show that he believed Ryan was lying.

Overall, she said of the debate, "It was fast-moving, energetic and covered a lot of ground. It was a strong performance by Biden; it was not a weak performance by Ryan."

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Meanwhile, MSNBC's Ed Schultz said he thought Biden did better than Obama in his first debate with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney last week.

"I thought Joe Biden made up a lot of ground," he said, adding: "He expressed confidence in the way the administration wants to take the country, he talked about the progress they've made and the tough decisions that had to be made. ... He came out and knew exactly what he needed to do. This was not a night of being lethargic. ... I have to say, mission accomplished."

MSNBC's Al Sharpton, meanwhile, was critical of Ryan.

"He bent the truth -- but not at the level of a liar as Mitt Romney," he said. "He's a fibber growing to be a liar, but Romney is an accomplished liar."

Other pundits took to Twitter after the debate to give their verdicts. CNN’s Piers Morgan wrote he suspected “independents were put off by Biden's incessant smirking” but added Democrats “will have loved all his passion and fire in the belly.” HBO’s Bill Maher opined that Biden was able to pack into one answer what Obama failed to do during “90 minutes” of his first debate. Former Clinton White House Counselor and current CNN contributor Paul Begala tweeted: "Conservative CW last week: scowling during debate bad. Conservative CW tonight: smiling during debate bad." Editor-in-Chief Erick Erickson tweeted: "Biden clearly had Kanye West as his debate coach and Taylor Swift as the Paul Ryan stand in."

Obama and Romney will meet for the second presidential debate Oct. 16 at 9 p.m. ET. The town hall format debate will include foreign and domestic policy, and will be hosted by CNN’s Candy Crowley. It’s slated to take place at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.