Will Paul Ryan rise to the occasion in tonight's VP debate?

You would be foolish to count Biden out of tonight's VP debate: He has 30 years of experience in the Senate — the most talkative group of people in history — and has run for president a zillion times. Biden handily beat Obama and Clinton in the earlier primary debates, back in 2008, and has taken six whole days to prepare to face Ryan.

Don’t get me wrong, though: Paul Ryan will be tested in the national spotlight and hopefully is prepared and ready for this moment. He is one of the sharpest guys in Washington right now, and is one of the most disciplined and focused public speakers I’ve ever seen. Nobody stays on message like this guy. Biden will throw the kitchen sink at him — spurious factoids, equally doubtful anecdotes about people in swing states, farfetched Scranton aphorisms, and pure campaign spin — and Ryan should not be tempted to try to catch everything. One of the things Romney did best in the first debate was respond to criticism: The president didn’t know what to do, and so he kept repeating the same debunked nonsense (5 trillion, 5 trillion, 5 trillion).

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Ryan’s focus will be a great opportunity to speak directly to the American people without spin. This was largely a missed opportunity during the Republican National Convention, because of the Ministry of Truth’s frenzied response to Ryan’s speech, which was to call him a liar, which is a lie.

Biden’s biggest weakness, apart from being the Yogi Berra of American politics — a Hall of Famer in terms of success, but a man whose foot is lodged in his esophagus — is the same as Obama’s and Al Gore’s: They’re at their best when they’re in a friendly crowd.

Biden’s trademark, increasingly, is to shout at his audience. What he shouts can be incoherent garble, such as “They don’t understand us!” or “I can dream as much as any rich man can!” It doesn’t have to make sense or be relevant to the election to become the habit of a demagogue. When there are no dragons to slay, one must tilt at windmills to seem brave.