The Vice Presidential Debate

I’m not actually at the computer at the moment but, through the magic of pre-posting, this post should appear one hour before the debate starts. My intention is to live blog the debate in this space via constant updates. Since the “Debate Traffic Jam” approach worked so well last go-round, let’s do it again. Anyone who links and TrackBacks this post will be displayed underneath the signature block for all to see.

Update (2102-): I’m live.

Cheney has already outperformed Bush. He’s displaying the same calm, steady demeanor he had during the Lieberman debate. He rattles off facts matter of factly and conversationally.

Did Cheney and Edwards get a discount on their matching outfits?

Why is Edwards addressing questions to Cheney?

“We had Osama bin Laden cornered at Tora Bora.” No, we didn’t.

Edwards commits the Osama –oops– Saddam faux pax. He also dodged the “would you have left Saddam in power?” question.

Cheney is doing a much better job than Bush of ticking off the Kerry-Edwards record of being wrong on foreign policy.

Ditto on the plan for taking out the terrorists.

“Four days until democratic elections in Afghanistan.” A very powerful point. Good contrasts with Kerry-Edwards poor mouthing on Afghanistan during the campaign.

“Freedom is the best antidote to terror.”

Edwards returns to the idiotic idea that we’re not going after al Qaeda, ignoring Cheney’s long list of accomplishments.

Edwards is doing a good job of playing the Southern gentleman. The “yes ma’am” was a nice touch.

Edwards does better than Kerry at explaining the “global test” line, although I expect Cheney to knock it out of the park on rebuttal. Cheney, rightly, notes that the 90% figure is simply wrong as was the $200 billion. “You probably weren’t there to vote for that.” Classic. “Awfully hard to create a sense of credibility when…..” also well done. Bush tried to hit that talking point time and again but never pulled it off. Edwards is doing quite well making his argument but Cheney is making a case that I think is more sellable, strongly, in casual style.

Cheney’s “we question his judgment not his patriotism” line, going back to his convention speech, is likely to go over well. He’s doing a great job of weaving the old talking points into the answers without seeming to be giving a canned response.

Cheney makes a devastating point that Kerry caved to Howard Dean–how do we expect him to stand up to Al Qaeda. Exactly right.

Edwards’ comparison of Kerry’s vote for big intelligence and defense expenditures (post 9/11) with the cuts Cheney oversaw as the Cold War was winding down is moronic. Cheney’s rebutal is reasonable and obvious; Bush wouldn’t have made it last debate.

Gwen Ifel is doing a much better job than Jim Lehrer of asking balanced questions. While I really like Lehrer, most of his questions during the Bush-Kerry debate were about ostensible Bush failures. Ifel is asking, alternately, questions on Kerry-Edwards statements/positions and Bush policies. Much fairer in my view.

Cheney: “You don’t have a plan–you have an echo.” Indeed. Once again, Cheney rattles off the same talking points/message (Kerry the flip-flopper) that Bush had but does it exponentially better. A very strong performance. In the first debate, Bush lost moreso than Kerry won. Here, despite Edwards doing a solid job, Cheney simply has much more gravitas. He just managed to deliver a pretty through dressing down to Edwards without coming across as mean.

Edwards’ talking point tonight seems to be to repeat the mantra that Bush and Cheney are lying to us. That strikes me as incredibly boneheaded. It appeals to their base, obviously, but it seems unlikely to appeal to swing voters.

Cheney is knocking the Osama-Zarquawi connection issue out of the park. I’d have added that it doesn’t matter if they’re working in collaboration, they’re working for the same Islamist objectives. But he ticks off the points with great confidence.

Cheney does well explaining the subtleties of international sanctions–when they might work and when they won’t. The difference between Iran and Iraq is important and complicated, but he handles it with casual confidence. He’s not Darth Vader tonight.

Halliburton, Halliburton, Halliburton. Cheney will be ready for this one. I love the reference to The format is rather unfair to Cheney on this one–Edwards gets several minutes to make spurious charges, Cheney gets 30 seconds to respond, and then Edwards gets 30 seconds to heap on more lies. Bizarre.

Cheney slams Edwards for missing all those votes in the Senate. “I’m president of the Senate and the first time I met you was on this stage tonight.” It’s amusing, although I’m not sure it will help sway voters. It does help widen the gravitas chasm that already exists. I love how Edwards is going back to votes Cheney made in the House 20-odd years ago. Cheney just dismisses it out of hand, which is likely better than to try to rebut the charges in 30 seconds.

Edwards seems not to understand the connection between jobs and education, which is incredibly odd for a meeel worker’s son who became a multimillionaire as a result of going to law school. Cheney is clearly mildly annoyed in his responds but rolls off a dozen or so stats to rebut Edwards.

“Mr. Vice President, I don’t think the country can take four more years of this kind of experience.” Gee whiz. Is that supposed to be the memorable zinger of the evening?

I agree with Cheney on the income tax issue and linkage of small businesses with the upper income brackets. I’m not sure how sellable the point is to the average swing voter. Edwards doesn’t help himself, however, by not acknowledging the point about small businesses.

Ifel brings up the gay marriage issue. Cheney correctly notes that freedom to engage in private conduct is different than state sanctioning of said behavior and by bringing in the “activist judges” issue. Edwards apparently doesn’t think there’s much hay to be made in this arena, as he spends most of his time talking about taxes instead. Ifel–to her credit–asks if Kerry-Edwards want to have it both ways by saying marriage should be only a man and a woman but criticizing the amendment. Edwards does a reasonable job of handling it and then Cheney, smartly, simply thanks Edwards for saying nice things about the Cheney family and lets it go at that. Clearly, both sides have determined that this issue isn’t one that is going to help them with swing voters.

Cheney wisely sidesteps making tort reform a personal issue vis-a-vis Edwards (especially right after Edwards’ gallant handling of Cheney’s awkward situation vis-a-vis gay marriage). Edwards does as well as would be expected defending the profession that made him a millionaire and deftly makes it about insurance companies rather than doctors going out of business. Both do a very solid job of presenting their side of the argument on a very complex topic.

As with the Cheney-Lieberman debate, the sit-down format seems to be more conducive to a conversational tone than the twin lecturn variant. Some of it is the personalities of the two men–both of whom are better at this than the guys at the top of their tickets–but the format is clearly a factor.

The jibes back and forth about whether Edwards or Halliburton were more greedy in their legal exploitation of tax loopholes, which I can’t imagine will sway any votes, quite ironically as I was typing the previous paragraph about the congenial tone of the debate.

The AIDS question is somewhat out of the blue given that it has been essentially unaddressed in the campaign so far. Cheney honestly acknowledges not being aware of some statistics Ifel quotes but does a solid job answering the question. Edwards obviously prepared to answer a question about AIDS abroad and deftly answers that question rather than the one asked–and then weaves to his generic talking points on the need for socialized medicine to handle the domestic angle.

Ifel essentially asks Edwards the Dan Quayle question: Why is an unqualified boob such as yourself running for Vice President? Edwards essentially ducks it but, rather than comparing himself to John Kennedy, he simply acknowleges that he’s less experienced than Cheney and goes back to making generic talking points. Cheney is fairly amusing in how he handles it. He’s self-deprecating and resists the urge to slam Edwards’ qualifications, which I think both smart and gracious.

Cheney does a gracious job, too, in the follow-up. Most people likely assume that he grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth and his telling of his personal story is effective, especially in the casual way he noted the similarity with that of John Edwards. Edwards basically ignores the question and gets back to the talking points. Not very deftly done but I doubt it will hurt him.

Edwards repeats the mantra that he and Kerry have been absolutely consistent on Iraq. Let’s see if Cheney handles it better than Bush did the other night. . . . Not really. He hits the standard talking points but doesn’t have a good zinger prepared, which is rather baffling given that it was to be expected.

Edwards notes, repeatedly, that Bush isn’t funding programs he advocated years ago. The obvious answer is that we’re at war now and our priorities have changed, but Cheney has let him slide on it.

The divided nation question is interesting. Cheney handles it reasonably well, being wistful about the collegiality that there used to be in the Senate. His answer is philosophical and even professorial, rather than the obvious “it’s the Democrats’ fault” tack that one might expect from a politician. Edwards, by contrast, blames it on Bush without explaining why and then goes on to yap more about health care. Cheney comes across much better. Oddly, Cheney lets him get away with it and engages him on health care.

Gee whiz: The light is flickering? Kids can’t go to college in America anymore. You’ve got to be kidding me.

Oddly, Cheney’s closing comments are much less eloquent than his answers to the questions. Primarily, because his cadence is too fast. It sounds like he’s reading from a teleprompter, whereas he’s been very conversational all evening.

Overall, I think Cheney won this one. Moreover, the debate was much more illuminating than Round 1 of the presidential debates.

Postdebate coments.

Fred Barnes thinks Cheney won the foreign policy part of the debate handily and Edwards the domestic part by a small margin but that the former was far more important.

Mort Kondracke thought Cheney was “old” and “dry” and that Edwards was too aggressive early on.

Bill Kristol echoes Barnes’ remarks and adds that Cheney made great inroads by putting the emphasis on Kerry’s Senate record.

Ceci Connolly thinks Edwards did a good job of hammering the things going poorly in Iraq at the moment.

Done. Scanning the blogroll and inserting hyperlinks is quite cumbersome on the laptop, so I shan’t bother. Follow the trackback links below the signature block for a representative sampling of other bloggers’ takes on the subject. I may do a more extensive roundup in the morning.

Update (9/6 0920): Viola: Cheney-Edwards Debate Morning After Roundup

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Afghanistan War, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    I really wish we could have had Cheney debate Kerry and Edwards debate Bush. That seems to be a more equitable matchup.

  2. Anjin-San says:

    Clearly Cheney is much smarter then Bush, better informed and a better debater. Edwards held his own, I would say it was pretty close to a draw…

    Cheney did however, tell bald-faced lies on several issuse, such as his linking saddam to 9/11 & not having ever met Edwards:

    Addressing the National Prayer Breakast, Cheney said: “Thank you. Thank you very much. Congressman Watts, Senator Edwards, friends from across America and distinguished visitors to our country from all over the world, Lynne and I honored to be with you all this morning.”  [FDCH Political Transcripts, Cheney Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, 2/1/01]

    Clearly the Cheney has greater stature and presence then the President. This has to be a problem for the Bush campaign.

  3. dw says:

    75 minutes of partisan BS, 15 minutes of issues-oriented debate. That’s 15 more than we got in the first debate.

    Cheney pretty clearly won it; he was clearly ready for this one. Edwards was disappointing; for a guy who was supposed to be one of the greatest trial lawyers of this generation he sure had trouble debating. I think the rules hurt him; it would have been nice if they’d tossed all these idiotic “one pencil no notecards one glass of water (37.2 oz, 69.4F)” and just had a good ol’ fashioned, talk until the issue is hammered down debate.

    One thing I like about Cheney: He speaks in cogent, concise sentences that don’t sound like the talking points they are. Unless Dubya can learn to do that in these next two debates, he’s going to be in a heap of trouble.

  4. ken says:

    I had never seen Edwards in a debate before this evening and have seen Cheney many, many, times on Sunday talk shows and the like. I know what to expect from Cheney, intellegent cogent discussion presented with a certain degree of rectitude, but was completely surprised by Edwards poise, intellegence, and charm.

    Both men where hard hitting and mostly on mesage. The misinformation on the part of Cheney was countered successfully, I thought, by Edwards simply telling the American people the truth.

    All and all I think both men did well but I liked Edwards better.

  5. Rodney Dill says:

    The debate can pretty much be summed up as
    Edwards: We have a plan* to do better than you did the last four years.
    Cheney: I shit bigger’n you.

    Cheney wins

    (* The new drinking game is to take a shot every time kerry or edwards says the word plan)

  6. Marc says:

    FactCheck has sent out a new email with corrections from the VP debate. The relevant part for this topic says that Cheney didn’t answer the question that was asked and that what Edward’s said was mainly correct:

    “Cheney got our domain name wrong — calling us “” — and wrongly implied that we had rebutted allegations Edwards was making about what Cheney had done as chief executive officer of Halliburton.

    In fact, we did post an article pointing out that Cheney hasn’t profited personally while in office from Halliburton’s Iraq contracts, as falsely implied by a Kerry TV ad. But Edwards was talking about Cheney’s responsibility for earlier Halliburton troubles. And in fact, Edwards was mostly right.

  7. Matt says:

    Cheney wins, but not by much, and anyway I don’t think the VP debate makes much of a difference anyway.

    Cheney is an excellent speaker, though he lost his trademark composure when he tried to nail Edwards on his Senatorial attendance. Why didn’t Edwards respond? Was he too stunned that Cheney so baldly lied? Or did he feel he wouldn’t gain had he called him on it? Who knows?

    Edwards didn’t embarrass himself, and that’s basically the most Kerry could have asked from him. Now back to the more important debates: between Bush and Kerry.