US vice-presidential debate liveblog

Our US blogger Nicky Woolf is live-blogging the vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.

 


10:38PM

 

I'm going to give this to Biden. Clearly, after Romney's performance last week he'd been briefed to ride rough-shod over both Raddatz and Ryan. When Romney did that sort of thing, it was counted a win. Will it be so in this case? There's no reason it has to be - in the debate game, goalposts move fast, and they move often. Many are going to say that Biden came off as condescending. But it looked like a win to me.

 


10:33PM

Wrapping-up speech from Biden. "The fact is, we we inherited a godawful circumstance. We tried to help people in need, but you probably detected my frustration about their attitude towards the American people." He points out the 47% again - I make that his fifth mention of that damning . "Those are the people that built this country, and when you level the playing field the're able to move.

Ryan has the last word, however. "I want to thank you, Joe. It's been an honour." A wry smile.

"We face a very big choice. What kind of country are we going to be? President Obama, he had his chance. His agenda: it's not working. It's failed to create the jobs we need. This is not what a real recovery looks like. YOu deserve better. Mitt Romney and I want to earn your support. ... The choice is clear. A stagnant economy that promotes more gvt dep, or a dynamic economy that promotes opportunity and jobs ... we will not try to replace our founding principles, we will reapply our founding principles."


10:27PM

Last question is about the campaign. Biden is losing his voice a little - he's been shouting for about an hour solid. "Whether or not Romney or Obama has the convition to help lift up the middle class, or going to focus on taking care of only the very wealthy - I would ask them to take a look at whether the President has acted wisely, and the slipshod comments made by Romney serve our interests. But there have been things said in campaigns that I find unappealing."

Ryan: "You have a President who ran for President promising hope and change, and has turned his candidate into attack, blame and defame. ... look at all the string of broken promises. ... remember when he said, 'I'll cut the deficit in half'."

The families I'm watching with point out that it's ironic that a question about the turn-off effect of negative campaigning has seen both candidates simply attack more. "Unappealing."

 


10:21PM

Last few questions return home: a doozy first. "Historically, you are two Catholic candidates, how has that affected your view on abortion?

Ryan pauses. "I don't see how a person can separate their public from their private; my faith tells me how to take care of the vulnerable. You ask me why I'm pro-life, it's not simply because of my faith. It's because of reason and science. My wife and I went to hospital for our 7-week ultrasound. Our little baby was in the shape of a bean. To this day, we have nicknamed her bean." He laughs thoughtfully. "I believe that life begins at conception. Those are the reasons I'm prolife. I realise it's difficult, and I respect people who don't agree ... but it's infringing on our right to religious freedom, imposing it on Catholic hospitals, Catholic churches."

"My religion defines who I am," says Biden. "I've been a practicing Catholic my whole life, and it has informed my social doctrine, which is about taking care of those who cant take care of themselves. With regard to abortion, I accept my churches position on abortion. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on others, unlike my friend here. I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that women can't control their body. It's a decision between them and their doctor."

 


10:12PM

Biden hits Ryan where the Obama campaign clearly wants Romney to be hit: their lack of specifics. Almost shouting: "if they're proposing to put American forces on the ground, they should stand up and say so. But that's not what they're saying."

"Nobody is proposing to send American troops to Syria," says a clearly confused Ryan. To loosely paraphrase Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail: if a candidate is spending his time denying things, then he's already lost.

 


10:07PM

Raddatz is being pretty hard on Ryan, it has to be said. Possibly to make up for the limpness of Jim Lehrer when Romney was hammering Obama. To my count she's asked the Republican vp candidate two particularly aggressive questions so far - "do you have specifics."

With Biden she's much more deferential. "Do you think..." "Would you say..." "Can you tell me, vice-President Biden, what was the reason for bringing the troops-" Biden interrupts again. He's dominating this debate. But is the day two story that he was over-the-top, perhaps rude?

"We turned it over to the Afghan troops we trained," intones Biden. He's on shaky ground here, but his tone is that of a winner, and the likelihood is that's what gets remembered.

 


10:00PM

It is pointed out to me that Paul Ryan looks uncannily like a child-actor from The Munsters.

He does. Afghanistan and the Middle East up next.


9:53PM

Now we're into tax plans. How does Ryan escape from Romney's lack of detail last time? "We need fundamental tax reform. The President wants the fundamental tax rate to go above 40% ... and it doesn't even pay for 10% of their proposed spending increases."

"We're suggesting - don't raise the deficit, don't raise the taxes on the middle class."

"You have refused to offer specifics - do you actually have them?" demands Raddatz. "We want to have big bipartisan..." starts Ryan. "Do you have the specifics?" she insists. "What we're saying is, here are our frameworks: cut spending, so we can lower tax rates across the board. Lower tax rates 20%, starting with the wealthy." 

That's the closest the Romney-Ryan campaign has come so far to putting any specifics on paper about tax. It's not... very close.

 


9:45PM

"Biden's rude and Ryan is smug" is the conclusion here in Hicksville. "This is catty."

 


9:43PM

Vanity Fair's Twitter feed is getting very, very excited right now, and loving Biden tonight.

 

 


9:36PM

"I got a letter from my friend here - 'can you send me some stimulus money for programs in my state of Wisconsin'" says Biden. This is a serious hit - after Ryan criticised the bailout fund, Ryan has been caught out in what looks like rank hypocrisy. He is clearly rattled, now.

Next up is Medicare and Medicaid. Will things have to change? "Absolutely. Medicare and Medicaid going bankrupt: these are absolute facts," says Ryan, before talking about how it helped his mother and grandmother. "If you reform these programs for people 54 and under, you can protect it for those already retired," he says: but this line, which Romney used as well (though less ably) last week, doesn't play well. As Obama said at the time: "if you're aged 50 and over, take note."

 


9:31PM

The first real laugh-line of the night from Ryan: "I think the vice-president knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way."

But Biden has the answer: "If you heard that 47 percent soliloquy and thought it was just an accident," says Biden, "then... I got a bridge to sell ya..."

 


9:27PM

Next up is the economy, and Biden loses no time hitting his talking-point targets: the auto bailout, Romney's statement that he'd have let Detroit go bankrupt, and Romney's 47% comment. Somewhere in campaign HQ, David Axelrod is applauding like a child being offered a lollipop.

 


9:24PM

Biden's on the attack hard – he looks as if he's trying to somehow get revenge for Romney's steamroller of Obama last week. Raddatz is having none of it, but Ryan looks very young in comparison.

 

“War should always be the last resort,” says Biden with a wise chuckle, in response to some flip-flopping on how well Iran sanctions are working from Ryan. In some ways, what's being said doesn't matter. Biden is steamrollering Paul.

 


9:20PM

Debate is getting heated about the so-called snub of Netanyaho at the latest UN summit. "I've been friends with Bibi for 39 years," says Biden. "The President has met with Bibi dozens of times. This... is a bunch of stuff." "What does stuff mean?" asks Raddatz.

"It's Irish..."

 


9:14PM

"Your candidate has a book out called 'no apologies'", says the envigilator Martha Raddatz "should we not be apologising for urinating on Taliban corpses, for burning Korans?" "Oh, god yes," says Ryan.

He's now talking about the lack of a Marine detachment for the Benghazi consulate; that's a line that sinks home here in Ohio - I'm watching with a Hicksville family, and there are nods around the room for what Ryan is saying. Not entirely, though: "His hair unsettles me," says Debbie Welly. Biden's hair, meanwhile, is getting full marks.

 


9:09PM

Paul Ryan is on the attack already. “What we're talking about here is the unravelling of the Obama foreign policy.” Joe Biden's response is to laugh – a polar opposite of Obama's grim-faced sobriety last time. "I just don't understand what my friend is talking about here," he says.

 


9:00PM

Hello, and welcome to the New Statesman's live blog of this evening.

There is a much more intimate debate setting for this evening's debate: a shared desk around the envigilator. First question is on Libya.

Crews put finishing touches on the stage for the vice-presidential debate at the Norton Centre at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Photograph: Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is reporting for the New Statesman from the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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How Donald Trump is slouching towards the Republican nomination

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb.

In America, you can judge a crowd by its merchandise. Outside the Connecticut Convention Centre in Hartford, frail old men and brawny moms are selling “your Trump 45 football jerseys”, “your hats”, “your campaign buttons”. But the hottest item is a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Hillary sucks . . . but not like Monica!” and, on the back: “Trump that bitch!” Inside, beyond the checkpoint manned by the Transportation Security Administration and the secret service (“Good!” the man next to me says, when he sees the agents), is a family whose three kids, two of them girls, are wearing the Monica shirt.

Other people are content with the shirts they arrived in (“Waterboarding – baptising terrorists with freedom” and “If you don’t BLEED red, white and blue, take your bitch ass home!”). There are 80 chairs penned off for the elderly but everyone else is standing: guys in motorcycle and military gear, their arms folded; aspiring deal-makers, suited, on cellphones; giggling high-school fatsos, dressed fresh from the couch, grabbing M&M’s and Doritos from the movie-theatre-style concession stands. So many baseball hats; deep, bellicose chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA!”. (And, to the same rhythm, “Don-ald J!”)

A grizzled man in camouflage pants and combat boots, whose T-shirt – “Connecticut Militia III%” – confirms him as a member of the “patriot” movement, is talking to a zealous young girl in a short skirt, who came in dancing to “Uptown Girl”.

“Yeah, we were there for Operation American Spring,” he says. “Louis Farrakhan’s rally of hate . . .”

“And you’re a veteran?” she asks. “Thank you so much!”

Three hours will pass. A retired US marine will take the rostrum to growl, “God bless America – hoo-rah!”; “Uptown Girl” will play many more times (much like his speeches, Donald J’s playlist consists of a few items, repeated endlessly), before Trump finally looms in and asks the crowd: “Is this the greatest place on Earth?”

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb. Only a minority within a minority of Americans, it was assumed, could possibly be stupid enough to think a Trump presidency was a good idea. He won New Hampshire and South Carolina with over 30 per cent of the Republican vote, then took almost 46 per cent in Nevada. When he cleaned up on Super Tuesday in March, he was just shy of 50 per cent in Massachusetts; a week later, he took 47 per cent of the votes in Mississippi.

His rivals, who are useless individually, were meant to co-operate with each other and the national party to deny him the nomination. But Trump won four out of the five key states being contested on “Super-Duper Tuesday” on 15 March. Then, as talk turned to persuading and co-opting his delegates behind the scenes, Trump won New York with 60 per cent.

Now, the campaign is trying to present Trump as more “presidential”. According to his new manager, Paul Manafort, this requires him to appear in “more formal settings” – without, of course, diluting “the unique magic of Trump”. But whether or not he can resist denouncing the GOP and the “corrupt” primary system, and alluding to violence if he is baulked at at the convention, the new Trump will be much the same as the old.

Back in Hartford: “The Republicans wanna play cute with us, right? If I don’t make it, you’re gonna have millions of people that don’t vote for a Republican. They’re not gonna vote at all,” says Trump. “Hopefully that’s all, OK? Hopefully that’s all, but they’re very, very angry.”

This anger, which can supposedly be turned on anyone who gets in the way, has mainly been vented, so far, on the protesters who disrupt Trump’s rallies. “We’re not gonna be the dummies that lose all of our jobs now. We’re gonna be the smart ones. Oh, do you have one over there? There’s one of the dummies . . .”

There is a frenzied fluttering of Trump placards, off to his right. “Get ’em out! . . . Don’t hurt ’em – see how nice I am? . . . They really impede freedom of speech and it’s a disgrace. But the good news is, folks, it won’t be long. We’re just not taking it and it won’t be long.”

It is their removal by police, at Trump’s ostentatious behest, that causes the disruption, rather than the scarcely audible protesters. He seems to realise this, suddenly: “We should just let ’em . . . I’ll talk right over them, there’s no problem!” But it’s impossible to leave the protesters where they are, because it would not be safe. His crowd is too vicious.

Exit Trump, after exactly half an hour, inclusive of the many interruptions. His people seem uplifted but, out on the street, they are ambushed by a large counter-demonstration, with a booming drum and warlike banners and standards (“Black Lives Matter”; an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, holding aloft Trump’s severed head). Here is the rest of the world, the real American world: young people, beautiful people, more female than male, every shade of skin colour. “F*** Donald Trump!” they chant.

After a horrified split-second, the Trump crowd, massively more numerous, rallies with “USA!” and – perplexingly, since one of the main themes of the speech it has just heard was the lack of jobs in Connecticut – “Get a job!” The two sides then mingle, unobstructed by police. Slanging matches break out that seem in every instance to humiliate the Trump supporter. “Go to college!” one demands. “Man, I am in college, I’m doin’ lovely!”

There is no violence, only this: some black boys are dancing, with liquid moves, to the sound of the drum. Four young Trump guys counter by stripping to their waists and jouncing around madly, their skin greenish-yellow under the street lights, screaming about the building of the wall. There was no alcohol inside; they’re drunk on whatever it is – the elixir of fascism, the unique magic of Trump. It’s a hyper but not at all happy drunk.

As with every other moment of the Trump campaign so far, it would have been merely some grade of the cringeworthy – the embarrassing, the revolting, the pitiful – were Trump not slouching closer and closer, with each of these moments, to his nomination. 

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism