The response on MSNBC to Thursday's feisty VP debate was very different from the anguished one that followed last week’s sleepier presidential one.
It was a “fast moving, intensely combative debate,” said Rachel Maddow. “An intensely kinetic night … it could not have been a starker contrast from last week.”
Chris Matthews, who outlined a checklist for Vice President Joe Biden prior to the debate, had his own version of score-keeping: He said Biden won on the three big issues of taxes, Medicare, and abortion, while Ryan only won on his Libya answer. “On the issues that matter to people, [it was] a clear victory for Joe Biden,” Matthews said. “He did what he had to do.”
“He was detailed, he was passionate,” agreed Ed Schultz.
Maddow cited one paarticular exchange, when Biden noted that despite his criticism of the stimulus, Ryan had actually asked the administration for stimulus money for his district, calling it brutal," to general agreement.
"The place where he really did do damage on domestic policy was Medicare,” added Chris Hayes, the host of MSNBC's Up with Chris. Biden repeatedly addressed the camera directly to ask “who do you trust?” on the issue, contrasting himself and Ryan’s privatization plan.
Though most panelists called it for Biden, Lawrence O’Donnell and Republican strategist Steve Schmidt were less sure.
“I think both sides are going to have a real fight in this room tonight about who did better,” said O’Donnell, host of The Last Word, adding that he's “not sure what ended up getting delivered” to swing or low-information voters. Schmidt said Republicans would watch the “fiery debate” and likely say that Ryan won, while Democrats would be “fired up by Joe Biden’s performance.”
One area where the panel almost unanimously credited Ryan was his lack of blatant policy flip-flopping—in contrast to his running-mate last week. “Ryan held his right-wing position, he did not do the chameleon thing that Romney did,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Still, Ryan fumbled on some issues, particularly one big focus of the debate: “Paul Ryan embarrassed himself on Afghanistan tonight like no other issue,” Maddow said. “He doesn’t understand it well enough. I find it terrifying … the Romney-Ryan ticket is not credible on the issue of war.”
Even Schmidt conceded that Ryan’s answers in this arena were weak. “He got lost in the answer on Afghanistan, I don’t disagree with that at all,” he said.