Like the Avis car rental ads of long ago, those battling to become "number two" did "try harder."
Joe Biden and Paul Ryan squared off in the lone Vice Presidential Debate of the 2012 campaign, intent on taking the fight to each other, and making their respective cases to the American people.
By the end of the 90-minute event, Republicans could claim their second consecutive debate victory, though Ryan's win over Biden wasn't as lopsided as Mitt Romney's rout of Barack Obama in the opening Presidential Debate.
Here are five observations from the Biden-Ryan encounter:
1. Smirking and laughing and scoffing...oh my!
For such an experienced politician, Vice President Biden forgot a fundamental rule: Disagree without being disagreeable. Biden may have argued assertively, but he behaved boorishly.
His smiling dissolved into smirking, he laughed inappropriately and derisively, and he interrupted Ryan and moderator Martha Raddatz constantly—over 80 times, according to one estimate.
Simply stated, the Vice President was rude.
2. "Walter" vs. "Young Blue Eyes"
Biden employed "populist passion" throughout the debate; unfortunately for Democrats, his facial expressions proved his undoing.
Making the rounds on the internet is a freeze frame of Biden next to a picture of "Walter" -- Jeff Dunham's ventriloquist doll. The resemblance is uncanny.
Subsequently, what the Vice President hoped to convey as an emotional defense of the middle class instead resembled a cranky old man shouting, "Hey kid, get off my lawn!"
Conversely, Congressman Ryan kept his cool, made his points, and remained respectful.
While his performance has been faulted as too reticent by some pundits, the fact is that Ryan's youth and alleged inexperience never gave way to a "deer-in-the-headlights" moment.
Ryan knows his stuff; his chairmanship of the House Budget Committee and his seven terms in Congress prove it, and so did his debate performance last night.
Ryan's performance was also aided by his appearance; his blue-eyed gaze enthralls not only great grandmothers and their great granddaughters -- it also appeals to those who come in between!
3. Biden's Best Moment
The Vice President was able to deflect Ryan's criticism of the stimulus package by maintaining that the Congressman was acting like...a Congressman!
Biden cited two letters that Ryan had written on behalf of constituents hoping to gain stimulus-related grants. The charge of hypocrisy put Ryan on the defensive, offering a response that was ineffective.
4. Ryan's Best Moment
When the Vice President brought up Romney's "47 percent" comment, Ryan turned it away with a humorous reply aimed straight at his opponent:
"I think the Vice President very well knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way."
5. The "Gaffe Machine" that keeps on giving!
Biden began the evening with clearly contradictory assertions concerning the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans last month in Libya.
First, he insisted that the administration's claim the attack came amidst protests over YouTube video were based on intelligence reports, despite intelligence officials insisting that it was a terrorist attack within 24 hours of its occurrence.
Then, he claimed that the administration was unaware of requests for additional security in Libya.
Unfortunately for the Vice President, his assertion came just a few hours after two State Department security officials testified before a congressional committee that they had asked for more security, and two other State Department officials admitted that they had denied the requests.
As time passes, Biden's performance will be remembered as ill-mannered, ill- informed, and misleading.
So...what does all this mean?
It adds up to another "feel good" moment for the GOP, but any good feeling should be tempered by the realization that most Americans don't cast their vote for President based on who's "number two."