They came out like boxers to the ring- each armed with strategies, talking points, and a clear message about what their party stands for. Their mission was crafted to convince voters about who is the best choice to lead this country for the next four years. However, if we look beyond the actual words spoken and focus instead on their nonverbal messages and dynamics, it becomes clear that each man was sent there to be a surrogate for his running mate- to deliver a message about the man behind the candidate, a message that the top men on the ticket have failed to send themselves.
Vice President Biden was forceful and even aggressive as he attacked both Romney’s ideologies and his words. He raised the now infamous “47 %” comments- daring Ryan to defend them. He focused on Romey’s pledge to not raise taxes on the wealthy, asserting that a Republican president would cause serious harm to the middle class. His affect was one of dominance and he displayed energy and tenacity as he defended both his running mate and their platform. He even looked directly into the camera and spoke to voters, asking them to use their common sense and good judgment. His facial expressions gave the most away as he smirked frequently when his opponent was speaking and interrupted him so often that Ryan requested that he stop. Taken as a whole, it appears he was tasked to come across as strong, informed, in charge and on the side of 100% of voters, as contrasted with the privileged 53%. This is the message Obama needed to send and did not in his first debate.
Congressman Ryan’s performance was characterized by civility and attempts to humanize his running mate while convincing voters that he is the best man to lead the country out of the present financial crisis and lift the middle class back to a previous state of prosperity. When responding to the “47%” attack by Biden, he used humor, commenting that the Vice President must surely understand how easy it is to misspeak. This drew humor and deflected the sting sought by Biden. Ryan also spoke directly to the personal characteristics of caring and decency that his running mate possesses as he shared a story of how Romney paid college tuition for a church member following an accident that left his father disabled.
Each man communicated his message effectively and it is doubtful that there will be any true winner or loser here. It will be interesting to see if Romney and Obama will be able to send as clear a message about who they are and what they stand for when they meet again at Hofstra University on October 16.