Many voters may be too young to remember the 2008 Democratic primary, the last time when former Vice President Joe Biden actually stood on a debate stage and defended his positions amid a field of other Democratic candidates.
The world watched as Biden debated former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in the 2008 Vice Presidential debate, and then former House Speaker Paul Ryan in the 2012 Vice Presidential debate, but what about Biden’s primary debating skills against other Democrats? Does he have what it takes to cut through the fog of having other Democratic candidates on stage with him?
Here are some clips of Biden’s past debate performances so you can judge for yourself.
1. “I’m not tip-toeing around it, I’m walking through it”
In this clip from a 2007 primary debate in late September, held in Davenport, Iowa, where Biden was on stage with Hillary Clinton, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the question of campaign finance reform and government-run health care were the topics being discussed.
Most notable in this clip is Biden’s insistence on pushing for campaign finance laws which would require campaigns only be financed by public money rather than be allowed to take private donations. Biden also unequivocally stated he’s against a government-run health care system. This clip also demonstrates Biden’s ability to hammer his views and dump on his opponents in a light-hearted way that gets laughter and applause while making his point.
2. Are you a “gaffe machine?”
In the first Democratic primary debate in the 2008 primary cycle, hosted by MSNBC on April 26, 2007, Biden was being questioned about his propensity to be a “gaffe machine,” as moderator Brian Williams puts it. Biden’s answer was short and to the point.
In a sense, this question felt like a setup from Williams, how else was Biden supposed to answer? The question was whether he can stay focused and avoid gaffes, so his simple one-word answer of “Yes” was the perfect comeback against the accusation that Biden is unable to control his temperament.
3. “If that’s his baby, he needs help”
From a 2007 CNN Democratic primary debate on July 23, candidates were taking questions submitted on YouTube about various topics. One question submitted by a man from Michigan asked the candidates their views on gun control by showing off a semi-automatic rifle which the man referred to as his “baby.” After Richardsons’s response, Biden steals the stage:
Biden used the opportunity to tout his credentials as being the author of the original Assault Weapons Ban legislation in 1994 after getting his digs questioning the mental status of the man who refers to a gun as his “baby.”
4. “A noun, and a verb, and 9/11”
At a debate held on October 30, 2007, from Drexel University in Philadelphia, the topic of whether Hillary Clinton was qualified to be President was tossed to Biden for an answer. Biden shrewdly deflected against attacking his Democratic primary opponents and decided to turn his attack to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2008 at the time.
Giuliani was the Mayor of New York during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, which became a cornerstone of his campaign. Biden took this credential of Giuliani’s and turned it upside down in a way that drew laughter. The other notable point is that Giuliani was often shielded from attacks like this because no candidate wanted to tread on the memories of 9/11 in a way that seemed callous or disrespectful.
5. “The thing I like most about you is your wife”
This clip, also from the CNN/YouTube debate on July 23, 2007, which took questions submitted via video, the candidates were asked to name at least one thing they liked about the candidate standing to their left. After calling the exercise “ridiculous,” Biden said something that could’ve gotten him in trouble.
Always one to go for the laugh, Biden makes reference to the wife of Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich. For reference, Elizabeth Kucinich was number 17 on a Men’s Health list of the “Hottest Wives of Celebrities” in 2015.
There are many more Biden clips from his Vice Presidential debates in 2008 and 2012, but we’ll save those for another time. It’s worth noting that among all of these candidates on stage in 2008, none of them are candidates in 2020, except Joe Biden, of course.