WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Van Hollen said Friday that although he played Paul Ryan in six mock debates with Vice President Joe Biden, it was the vice president’s knowledge of the topics, and not the congressman’s preparation assistance, that was crucial to Biden’s performance.
The comments came a day after a fireworks-filled showdown between Biden and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. The New York Times reported last week that Van Hollen attempted to personify Ryan’s speaking style in order to give Biden the most realistic experience.
“I’m not sure I’d get any Academy Award for that part,” joked Van Hollen, “but I did my best to, you know, present the arguments as Paul Ryan did, both in terms of substance and style.”
Van Hollen, D-Kensington, is the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, where Ryan is chairman.
“I think I was able to give Joe Biden a very good sense of the arguments and lines … that would be thrown at him by Paul Ryan,” Van Hollen said.
In preparing for the debate, Van Hollen said he and Biden did a couple of mock debates in Washington and then spent four days in Delaware practicing. They rehearsed at a set almost identical to the one used Thursday at the debate in Danville, Ky, he said.
Between these six debates, Van Hollen said not only every topic, but pretty much every question posed was something that came up in practice. He spoke with the vice president after the debate, congratulating Biden on his “stellar performance.”
Matt Eventoff, owner of Princeton Public Speaking and someone experienced in debate prep on all levels of government, said he wouldn’t go so far as to call Biden’s performance stellar, but did praise Van Hollen’s preparation job.
Van Hollen had Biden ready for every single question, Eventoff said, and “deserves an A in terms of preparation.”
“There was no question that Joe Biden was prepared for every line of attack”
Preparing for a debate is “crucial,” Eventoff said, as it gives candidates uninterrupted time to lay out their arguments for being elected. The keys to preparation, he said, are for a candidate to know his core messages, his opponent’s core messages and where there are differences.
Van Hollen’s task in preparing Biden, Eventoff said, was to get under his skin and irritate him in practice, so he wouldn’t react badly in front of tens of millions of people. But it’s not a foolproof way to avoid gaffes.
“The preparation could be perfect,” said Eventoff, “and a candidate could still get flustered.”
The next debate will be Tuesday between the presidential candidates — Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
In a debate split between foreign policy and the economy, Van Hollen said Biden did a great job, especially when it came to showing that Biden and Obama are “fighters for the middle class.”
“Joe Biden feels passionately about that issue, he speaks from the heart,” said Van Hollen, who also said Biden described the plan proposed by Romney and Ryan as a “sucker punch for the middle class.”
Biden called out Ryan on what he believed to be false facts, using the word “malarkey,” which quickly trended on Twitter and became a top Google search term. Van Hollen said he felt as though Biden was justified in using the term, defined by Merriam-Webster as misleading or meaningless talk.
“When Paul Ryan said things that were just not credible and unbelievable, I thought it was appropriate to say malarkey,” said Van Hollen.
Biden smiled and sometimes laughed when Ryan spoke, spawning Twitter accounts like @LaughinJoeBiden and plenty of criticism.
Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said overall Biden did well, but at times he may have come across as condescending and rude. However, he said it likely was more the Obama campaign’s fault than Van Hollen’s, as they overcompensated after Obama, in the first debate, was perceived as too polite.
“He was great on substance,” said Eberly, “but he blew it on style.”