Vice President Dick Cheney creamed John Edwards last night, but not because John Edwards was inarticulate. Edwards was very articulate. Not responsive, but articulate. Just like you would expect of a trial lawyer, but not of a vice president in time of war.

Mary Beth Cahill looked stricken when she appeared with Chris Wallace at 8:00 p.m. The campaign manager for Kerry was upset that John Kerry’s 20 years in the United States Senate was back on the table, and that Edwards near invisible record in the United States Senate was also fodder for the vice president’s repeated attacks on the Democratic ticket.

Cheney wrote some notes when he came out before the debate began. I think they must have said:

“Global test.”

“If you had had your way, the troops wouldn’t have what they have.”

“I could use a lot for words to describe Sen. Kerry’s record on Iraq, but consistent isn’t one of them.”

“The threat. The threat. The threat.”

It is this last theme which led to Cheney’s domination of the young and affable trial lawyer. Americans hate that their soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are in harm’s way. But voters understand the threat and the vice president repeatedly reminded them of it.

This electorate is also scornful of talking points and non-responsive answers. Over and over again, Edwards refused to answer direct questions. And when Edwards was disdainful of the Iraqi sacrifices for their freedom, Cheney tore him up. That will leave a mark.

The spin broke decisively for Cheney just as the delayed analysis of last Thursday has come around to understanding that Kerry blundered badly, but that Bush didn’t. “Global test” defined Kerry more than all the ads to date run by Bush-Cheney, and tonight hammered it home: You cannot trust John Kerry to wage the war that needs to be waged, to demand the weapons that need to be produced, to inspire the American people to support a victory strategy.

If you can’t stand up to Howard Dean, how in the world can you stand up to al-Qaida, indeed. John Kerry couldn’t even stand up to Michael Moore, the prince of his nominating convention.

John Kerry didn’t get a bounce from Thursday – he got an anchor around his neck, one he put there. John Edwards couldn’t do anything to get that anchor off. We’ll watch it sink Kerry for the next four weeks, regardless of Friday night’s and next week’s debates.

It isn’t about looking good. It is about leading the war.

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