In the past, scholarly literature has downplayed the importance of the vice presidential debate. Despite these events bringing in around 42 million viewers, many articles cite that while vice presidential debates “may be quite entertaining and informative, [they] have little direct impact on the election…” Additionally, this same article states “presidential elections are won and lost by the head of the ticket.” However, some articles are taking a different spin, reporting that this upcoming debate is another “high stakes” affair—one that Biden needs to win in order to help the Obama campaign regain momentum. With one presidential debate having already taken place, I wanted a better idea as to what I should expect from the debate taking place tonight.
In an article by Diana Carlin and Peter J. Bicak, a theory is developed regarding the purpose of vice presidential debates. Carlin and Bicak argue that the first purpose for the debate is for the candidates to demonstrate their fitness for the presidency, as this debate provides direct “insight into their [the vice presidential candidate’s] potential leadership qualities.” The second purpose for the debate is for the vice presidential candidates to “explain the role he/she would play in the administration” and “to demonstrate the ability to fulfill that role.” It is noted that this is an especially important component if the running mates are known to have “philosophical differences,” which is the case between Romney and Ryan on a variety of issues. A third purpose of Thursday’s debate is to provide “additional insight into the presidential nominee’s decision making abilities and policy positions.” In other words, Ryan should be using tonight’s debate to clarify where Romney stands on several issues. Within this same purpose, it is argued that tonight is when the vice presidential candidate should emphasize and explain why they were chosen as the running mate. A fourth purpose is for the vice presidential candidate to “defend attacks on the presidential nominee’s ideas, character, or record.” Carlin and Bicak note that it is much easier for an outsider to issue praise on a running mate than it would be for a candidate to issue self-praise. If this is the case, we can expect to see both vice presidential candidates chalking up their counterpart tonight. Lastly, according to Carlin and Bicak, we can expect to see aggression in the vice presidential debate—moreso than would be considered “acceptable” in a presidential debate. As one of the purposes of the vice presidential debate calls for the vice presidential candidates to defend their counterpart, a little more aggression or banter among candidates would be expected. Carlin and Bicak assert that “strong attacks reveal something about the manner in which a vice president would support a president in office.” As it has been retold in several articles floating around online, Ryan believes that Biden will “come at him like a cannonball” in tonight’s debate.
Many people have tried to forsee the direction of tonight’s debate. CNN writes an article in regards to the five things that we should watch for in the spar between vice presidential candidates. The first item that the audience should look for is whether or not Biden will be more aggressive than Obama was in his previous debate. As stated in the Carlin and Bicak article, we can expect to see more “attacks” in a vice presidential debate than we can in a presidential debate. If Carlin and Bicak are correct in their “5th purpose” to a vice presidential debate, we will definitely witness aggression amongst the two candidates tonight. CNN also says to look out for a lot of “number talk” and discussion specifically pertaining to social security. If Carlin and Bicak’s “third purpose” holds weight, which is that the vice presidential candidates will provide insight into their running mate’s policy positions, then we can expect to see many numbers surface tonight in reference to presidential candidate’s policy beliefs. The CNN article suggests that we keep an eye out for a discussion surrounding the vice presidential candidates difference in age. Biden is almost thirty years older than Ryan, which many would argue translates into vast more political experience and knowledge. If this discussion surfaces, it could very well fall in line with a piece of what Carlin and Bicak propose as their “third purpose” to a vice presidential debate. In other words, age could be brought up to help explain why Biden and Ryan were chosen as vice presidential candidates. Biden could have been chosen as Obama’s running mate because he is older and has more foreign policy experience than Obama did upon entering office. A claim could be made that Ryan was chosen as Romney’s running mate perhaps to provide the Republican ticket with a “fresher” and “younger” face with new policy ideas. The last point that CNN says to look for is whether or not Ryan “touts his ability to step in, if needed, into the leading role” as commander-in-chief. This is definitely an issue that fits into Carlin and Bicak’s first purpose of vice presidential debates, which is that the vice presidential candidates should use tonight’s debate to show their fitness for office.
I look forward to tuning in at 9 pm tonight to see which of Carlin and Bicak’s “purposes” surface during the debate!