Score this one to Vice President Dick Cheney. Passing a few fundamental tests was the task and tonight it was mission accomplished.
First, he had to dispel pop-culture/Saturday Night Live-driven myths characterizing him as a scheming, old ogre, pulling the strings of power at the White House. Cheney was calm, relaxed, and tough without appearing mean. He closed the eloquence deficit with his own currency of a substantial resume and significant experience. Looking at the two men, Edwards appeared younger and more energetic, but also green and not ready for prime time at several points. The VP projected competence and even some warmth, clearly ready to step into the presidency at a moment’s notice.
Second, while Senator John Edwards was well prepared with his planned answers, and is clearly a skilled and eloquent debater, he left himself open to effective Cheney zingers. Unlike the first debate where President Bush suffered from some poor body language and several missed opportunities, Cheney missed a couple too, but also delivered some rhetorical body blows that nearly knocked Edwards out of his chair.
Three that rocked Edwards, causing him to stumble over his responses were:
‐”If you can’t stand up to Howard Dean, who can you stand up to Al Qaeda.”
‐”I’m the president of the Senate and first time I met you was tonight.”
‐”I can think of many words to describe Senator Kerry’s position on Iraq–consistent isn’t one of them.”
Not quite “You’re no John Kennedy, Senator,” but still powerful.
Edwards was also thrown off by Cheney challenging him on excluding Iraqi casualties in his litany about America bearing 90 percent of the burden.
Finally, Cheney effectively brought the Kerry/Edwards Senate record back in play. Time and time again, on taxes, the war, litigation, and spending, the vice president effectively raised the issue of “consistency.”
Edwards started strong and had a polished, well-rehearsed, better-delivered close, but the vice president clearly accomplished his goals tonight and won the aspects of this debate most important to reelecting the Bush/Cheney ticket: demonstrating competence/dispelling myths, landing some rhetorical body blows, and reinforcing the flip-flop/liberal image by raising the Kerry/Edwards Senate record.
–Gary Andres is vice chairman of research and policy at the Dutko Group Companies and a frequent NRO contributor.