Stephanopoulos Initially Hedges on Biden-Ryan Clash, But Later Claims Biden 'Stops Erosion Among Democrats'

Former Clinton administration flack and current ABC personality George Stephanopoulos slanted towards Joe Biden after Thursday night's vice presidential debate between the incumbent and challenger Paul Ryan. However, unlike his definitive pro-Democratic track record with debates, he initially wouldn't give a clear answer as to who won the match-up.

Stephanopoulos trumpeted how "Joe Biden came in and gave the game that a lot of Democrats wanted from Barack Obama last week, but did not get", and later claimed, "over the course of the debate, more of issues fell in Biden's corner. He was able to take control of more of the debate." When Diane Sawyer asked whether there was a "clear winner", he replied, "I'm saying exactly what I said, Diane," and acknowledged that "Ryan held his own – did not make any big mistakes; humanized himself, when he had to humanize himself."

Diane Sawyer, ABC News Anchor; & George Stephanopoulos, ABC News Anchor | NewsBusters.orgThe Good Morning America anchor first went out of his way to boost his colleague Martha Raddatz's performance as moderator: "You have to say, a lot of the credit is going to have to go to our colleague, Martha Raddatz. She asked pointed questions. She kept control of this debate. She really forced the exchanges." Stephanopoulos continued with his point about Joe Biden's "game", compared to that of the President's at the first presidential debate, which led to his exchange with Sawyer over who the "clear winner" was.

Moments later, the World News anchor turned to ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd. Unlike the Clinton administration veteran, Dowd gave a definitive answer as to who won:

DOWD: Well, I'll take up the question that you asked George directly. Biden won. This is – I think Biden is the clear winner in this debate. I think Paul Ryan did fine. I think he comported himself well on the national stage. Biden won. Biden did exactly what he had to do. I was – interesting, as I watched this, the baseball playoffs are today - four games for today - huge games. They needed a reliever to come in and this reliever came in with a bunch of fastballs and a bunch of brush-back pitches, which he served up throughout the night. And he did exactly what he needed to do.

Sawyer followed up by asking "What does that mean for the President, though?" The ABC News political analyst replied by asserting that "President Obama's been losing ground over the course of – since the last debate, and that stopped tonight. That ground that he lost – the bleeding has stopped tonight."

Stephanopoulos would go on to second Dowd's assessment, and added his own spin to it:


STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll start – starting – first of all, I think you have to look at – this had, somewhat, settled down before this debate began. The polls had basically gone back to where they were before the conventions. I think this stops erosion among Democrats, clearly, as Matthew Dowd talked about. I think it – it solidifies the position the President had before the debate last week. But that means we're still in a dogfight in places like Virginia and Florida and Colorado. The Presidents are going to have to break that – the presidential candidates –  in their debate.

The lone dissenter on the ABC post-debate panel was former McCain presidential campaign adviser Nicolle Wallace, who ripped into Biden's performance:

WALLACE: I disagree. Four years ago tonight, I sat in a very different place. I was in Sarah Palin's hold room and I – and I prayed to God that the Biden that showed up tonight had – had faced her four years ago. The Biden four years ago was respectful; he was composed; he was dignified; he was presidential. The Biden tonight started – for the first hour, his biggest problem were these terribly goofy faces that reminded me of the way my dad watches Obama's press conferences. But by the end - an hour in - I thought Biden came unhinged. He got mad. He raised his voice at Martha Raddatz. He did a lot of finger-wagging. And I think that may have thrilled Democrats, but I think that the people that Obama is worried about are the independents and the people that have cooled to him, and I don't think Biden spoke to them at all.

The transcript of the relevant portion of the ABC's live coverage of Thursday's vice presidential debate:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Diane, you said it was extraordinary. That was a debate that lived up to the hype – real clashes, real differences, real exchanges right from the start. There was just no question about – you have to say, a lot of the credit is going to have to go to our colleague, Martha Raddatz. She asked pointed questions. She kept control of this debate. She really forced the exchanges.

As for the candidates, Joe Biden came in and gave the game that a lot of Democrats wanted from Barack Obama last week, but did not get.

DIANE SAWYER: So, are you saying there was a clear winner?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm saying that – I'm saying exactly what I said, Diane. (Sawyer laughs) I'm saying that he gave the game the Democrats wanted on things – the middle class; on the 47 percent; on – on abortion. He also opened up issues Democrats wanted to talk about. Paul Ryan held his own – did not make any big mistakes; humanized himself, when he had to humanize himself. But, I think, over the course of the debate, more of issues fell in Biden's corner. He was able to take control of more of the debate.

SAWYER: Well, I'll tell you a little bit about what all of you are saying out there online - not that you don't know, because you are monitoring it as well, but the signal from our partners and friends at Yahoo! is this: there were so many mentions of the Vice President smiling and laughing at the beginning and the split screen in this debate; also, the word 'malarkey'; and also, again-

STEPHANOPOULOS: 'A bunch of stuff'-
 
SAWYER: 'A bunch of stuff' – a lot of comments on the strength of our own Martha Raddatz.

But our team of insiders is standing by right here, and we want to get to them as well. Matt Dowd, who has worked at the very top of presidential campaigns for more than 25 years, is here. Matt, what did you see tonight?

MATTHEW DOWD, ABC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'll take up the question that you asked George directly. Biden won. This is – I think Biden is the clear winner in this debate. I think Paul Ryan did fine. I think he comported himself well on the national stage. Biden won. Biden did exactly what he had to do. I was – interesting, as I watched this, the baseball playoffs are today - four games for today - huge games. They needed a reliever to come in and this reliever came in with a bunch of fastballs and a bunch of brush-back pitches, which he served up throughout the night. And he did exactly what he needed to do.

SAWYER: You say Biden won. What does that mean for the President, though?

DOWD: Well, I think what that means, is that he has been – President Obama's been losing ground over the course of – since the last debate, and that stopped tonight. That ground that he lost – the bleeding has stopped tonight. It puts much bigger underlying for next Tuesday in the presidential debate.

STEPHANOPOULOS (to Nicolle Wallace): Nicolle? Biden wins?

NICOLLE WALLACE, ABC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: I disagree. Four years ago tonight, I sat in a very different place. I was in Sarah Palin's hold room and I – and I prayed to God that the Biden that showed up tonight had – had faced her four years ago. The Biden four years ago was respectful; he was composed; he was dignified; he was presidential. The Biden tonight started – for the first hour, his biggest problem were these terribly goofy faces that reminded me of the way my dad watches Obama's press conferences. But by the end - an hour in - I thought Biden came unhinged. He got mad. He raised his voice at Martha Raddatz. He did a lot of finger-wagging. And I think that may have thrilled Democrats, but I think that the people that Obama is worried about are the independents and the people that have cooled to him, and I don't think Biden spoke to them at all.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Donna, that's one of the things I wondered about. There's definitely a lot of commentary out there about Biden's smiles, but it did seem, as you saw that split screen right there, that, in some ways, the two candidates were talking to two completely different audiences.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That is correct, George. Look, Joe Biden understood tonight that he had to go back out there and do what President Obama failed to do last week - that is, convince the American people that the Democrats have a plan for the future; also, reassure voters out there that the Obama-Biden team understands what the American people care deeply about. I don't think people will be alarmed at the fact that he was enjoying himself. Joe Biden loves politics. He loves being with people, and I think what came across tonight, is that Joe Biden had something to say, and he was eager to say it.

SAWYER: But a reality check to both of you here: how much does this move the needle? All three – all four of you – how much does this really move the needle in the presidential race?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll start – starting – first of all, I think you have to look at – this had, somewhat, settled down before this debate began. The polls had basically gone back to where they were before the conventions. I think this stops erosion among Democrats, clearly, as Matthew Dowd talked about. I think it – it solidifies the position the President had before the debate last week. But that means we're still in a dogfight in places like Virginia and Florida and Colorado. The Presidents are going to have to break that – the presidential candidates –  in their debate.

DOWD: Interestingly, I think this did exactly what Vice President Cheney did in 2004. After Bush lost that debate to John Kerry, he lost five or six points. Vice President Cheney came in, stopped the bleeding – stopped it and re-energized Republicans. What happened with last week, is Democrats got – lost their energy in this race, and that's why the polls changed.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center