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Previewing the vice presidential debate, Biden’s mission

The Obama campaign has responded to the defeat of its man in the first debate by accusing Romney of lying his way to victory. It thus becomes incumbent on Team Obama to make this assertion stick in a forum where the other side gets to participate.

This task falls to Joe Biden in tomorrow’s vice presidential debate. His mission is not generally to reassure Americans that the country is in good hands, as George H.W. Bush and Dick Cheney were called on to do after Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush slipped up in their first debate. For the Republicans did not try to explain away these debate defeats by calling their opponent a liar. But Team Obama opted to raise the stakes by making such a claim. So Biden’s mission is to prove that Romney wasn’t being honest and that his numbers don’t add up.

Ryan, therefore, should expect an all out assault by Biden. Word is that Biden has been sequestered for the better part of a week preparing to launch that assault.

In many ways, Ryan is just the guy you’d want on the stage to counter it. After all, he’s the ultimate numbers guy. But Ryan can’t rely on his general fund of knowledge, ample though it is, and he must guard against over-confidence. Ryan should be prepared to defend with specificity everything Romney said during the debate and to rebut claims that Romney’s debate positions are inconsistent with his past pronouncments.

It’s a big task — there’s a lot of territory to cover here. But if Ryan succeeds, then Team Obama’s “Romney won by lying” narrative will be shot down and Romney’s decisive debate victory will continue to resonate.

Ryan shouldn’t just play defense, of course. The Obama administration’s record offers him a target rich environment; it’s imperative that Ryan exploit it, as Romney did.

In doing so, Ryan will force Biden to play some defense. I don’t doubt that Talkin’ Joe has been primed to attack hard, and I think we should assume that he’s capable for doing so. In fact, he is probably better suited for this role than Obama. But can Biden defend the Obama adminstration’s record without tying himself in knots and commiting at least one serious gaffe?

Perhaps he can, if he’s lucky. But part of Ryan’s mission is to put him to that test.

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