How Paul Ryan could lose the debate

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

Conventional wisdom — at least, among conservative circles — is that Paul Ryan will win tonight’s debate. Ryan is, after all, a conservative wunderkind, while Biden appears to be a gaffe-prone rube.

Republicans have a bit of a swagger today that is probably not unlike the way New York Yankees’ fans feel heading into tonight’s playoff game against the Orioles.

But don’t discount the chance that Biden’s folksy charm might compensate for his other deficiencies.

It’s entirely possible there could be a disconnect between how Washington views the debate — and how the rest of the country sees it.

Biden might play better in Peoria.

But while Biden’s folksiness can be appealing, it would be dangerous for Ryan to attempt to match it by affecting a more homespun image. In fact, that might be the most likely way he could lose.

As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein — who has interviewed Ryan several times — warns, Ryan is

happy to get deep, deep into the weeds. As I understand it, this is something he’s explicitly trying to work on in advance of his debate with Biden. As a Ryan adviser told National Review’s Robert Costa, “he doesn’t want to be the guy talking about CBO baselines.”

In my view, that’s probably a mistake. One danger for Ryan in this debate is that he spends so much time trying to be someone other than himself that he ends up tamping down on the qualities that made him such an effective messenger in the first place. You saw this happen, to some degree, at the Republican Convention …

But his bigger problem is that he’s not defending his own policies anymore…

This is a common lament. Running mates inherit the positions of their bosses. It might be harder for Ryan, a policy wonk who recently joined the campaign, to defend someone else’s stances.

Of course, this might be all be a moot discussion.

It’s possible that Biden — who might feel pressure to look aggressive (after President Obama’s disappointing debate performance last week) — won’t be all that affable.

There’s also the question of whether or not any of this matters.

Cynical journalists have recently made a habit of predicting that big political events are irrelevant (conventions don’t matter, debates don’t matter, etc)  — but if there were ever a case to argue something is over-hyped, it might be a vice presidential debate.

After all, Lloyd Bentsen destroyed Dan Quayle (once thought of as a young, conservative “rising star,” himself) in that infamous 1988 debate. Bush still won.

Still, this match up is incredibly interesting (as Klein describes it, like “the burly wrestler against the lithe ninja”), and one imagines there is at least a slight opportunity for something big to happen tonight.

I’ll be watching.