Initial Polls, Media Debate Consensus: Romney Won Big, Obama Lost Big (News Media and Blog Roundup)

Adam Zyglis, The Buffalo News


The first Presidential debate of campaign 2012 is over and it’s time for a raging prevailing conventional wisdom to be swept under the rug (and quietly not mentioned) again. The emerging consensus among new and “old” media, non-spin analysts, and snap polls of views is that Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the first Presidential debate ..big , President Barack Obama lost…big — and there will likely be a debate “bump” for Romney to the extent that what seemed like a horse-race is now a very close horserace. (Scroll down this post for an extensive roundup of quotes).

When MSNBC’s Chris Matthews almost throws a fit over Obama’s performance, you know it left something (for Democrats) to be desired.

Romney was on the offensive, Obama mostly on the defensive. Yours truly listened to the first 40 minutes on the radio and it Obama sounded tentative from the get-go and not exceptionally prepared for a high stakes debate. Romney sounded aggressive, packed with content (rehearsed to be sure).

Later, in watching the debate on CNN, if anything Barack Obama seemed to resemble an unhappy President George H. W. Bush debating Bill Clinton in 1992: Obama gave the impression the pesky debate was where he would most assuredly rather not be. NOTE: Chuck Todd on MSNBC JUST said what I wrote in the last sentence. Romney did not just his “A game,” but his best debate performance. Obama gave his “C” or “C-” game, one of his worst debate performances in years: and there was no comparison between the Obama on the stump and the tepid Obama in the debate. Did The Body Snatchers swoop down into the White House last night, gobble up the real Obama, and send this counterfeit in to the debate in his place?

Polls give a win to Romney. Bigtime.

CNN:

A CNN/ORC International poll of 430 people who watched the debate showed 67% thought Romney won, compared to 25% for Obama.

Mystery Pollster’s Twitter:

CBS KN instant reaction poll: Big win for Romney. By 46-22 say think won, 56% have better opinion of Romney, Romney cares up from 30 to 63

The CBS poll will make GOPers happy and Dems worry. Sara Boxer’s Tweet:

NEW @CBSNews post-debate: 56% say their opinion of Romney has changed for the better. Just 13% say that about the President

CBS’s Twitter:

Out of 533 uncommitted voters in a @CBSNews / Knowledge Networks instant poll 46% say that Romney won, 22% say Obama won, the rest undecided

CBS video giving poll details:

Some conservative Republicans are now trumpeting these polls — and political scientist Larry Sabato now asks this question:

What happened to the polling conspiracy? Biased polls suddenly unbiased, show big Romney debate win.

Sabato put out a quick edition of his always-solid Crystal Ball which has earned him and his team recognition for its political accuracy (the flip side of Dick Morris). Here’s a chunk of the just-out edition on the debate:

It’s pretty obvious who turned in a stronger performance in the first presidential debate last night. And it certainly wasn’t the incumbent. This may have been Mitt Romney’s best debate ever, and it almost certainly was Barack Obama’s worst. The question is, will it matter and, if so, how much will it matter?

Romney, who has been persistently trailing by a few points in the national polls and in the key swing states, was more concise, focused and confident than President Obama on Wednesday evening. Obama, given several opportunities to counterattack on some of Romney’s points, appeared unwilling to do so, retreating to bland, small-bore, Clintonian talking points. Among the weapons that the president left on the stage was any reference to Romney’s now infamous “47%” comment. Perhaps the Obama campaign had a strategic reason for not using that line of attack, but whatever the reasoning was, it sure seems like a mistake. Even the president’s strongest allies didn’t bother to defend his exceptionally weak performance.

This was not, however, a scintillating debate. Much of the back-and-forth centered on policy disagreements and references (“Dodd-Frank”) that many voters don’t know or, honestly, don’t care about. When debates become a battle of studies versus studies, voters nod off. Perhaps we’re missing something, but it doesn’t seem like, 25 years from now, there will be any moments from this debate included in any reporter’s list of “top five debate moments.” And just because Romney won handily — and the press will report it that way — that does not mean voter preferences will necessarily change all that much. Often, voters can judge one candidate to have won a debate, but not change their ballot choice as a consequence.

One plus for Romney coming out of the debate tonight is that it seems Republicans, at least as far as we could tell from Twitter and instant polls, clearly felt that their guy won the debate, while Democrats didn’t seem impressed with their candidate. In an election that might come down to turnout and enthusiasm, we suspect that Republicans will have a little more pep in their step around the water cooler today than their Democratic friends. That may or may not matter in the coming weeks.

In reality, we won’t know who really “won” the debate until we see how the debate affects the race, and we won’t know that until we have complete poll data for several post-debate days. History cautions us not to overstate the importance of any debate; if this one really does move the numbers in a significant way for Romney, it will be more exception than rule in the relatively short history of televised American presidential debates.

Another MUST READ political scientist is UCSD’s Samuel Popkin who wrote a book that is a new Bible of politics (I reviewed it HERE). Here’s part of his comments in the San Diego UT:

This was the best performance Mitt Romney could have ever imagined. What nobody could tell for a week is whether it causes people to reconsider him or whether it’s too late to revise what he has said previously.

Romney sounded very reasonable and he disavowed repeatedly the programs that he was being hurt on. He rephrased Medicare, taxes and spending cuts without filling in the details while sounding both reasonable and conciliatory. President Barack Obama was much like George Bush, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter in their first debates as president: A little off for the first 30 minutes. Obama looked irritated.

Romney had more hits but Obama had more home runs..

.
AND:

Overall, Romney had better lines much of the time and Obama hit it hard around 7 p.m. The question remains: Will any of this matter to the undecided voters who are much less engaged as opposed to the people who are on one side or the other?

You don’t knock out a president in the first debate. You open him up and then you see what you could do in the next one. And I would say there is no doubt about it that Romney has to feel like he’s got more of a chance then he had a week ago.

There is a very big difference between looking better than you’ve looked in a debate and convincing people you actually have all the pieces. Obama is there and Romney has got to convince people he’s better. This gives him time to make moves.

Read it in its entirety.

There were signs just hours after the debate that Romney’s assertions may provide the Democrats with some campaign issues — and materials for anti-Romney ads: a key advisor immediately backed off a key assertion Romney made during the debate:

After the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Colorado on Wednesday night, one of Mitt Romney’s top advisers acknowledged that, as a result Romney’s plan to repeal Obamacare, people with pre-existing medical conditions would likely be unable to purchase insurance.

The admission directly contradicts the GOP candidate’s claim during the debate that “pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan” — a contention Romney has repeated on the trail and that his campaign has repeatedly walked back.

“With respect to pre-existing conditions, what Governor Romney has said is for those with continuous coverage, he would continue to make sure that they receive their coverage,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, referring to existing laws which require insurance companies to sell coverage to people who already have insurance, or within 90 days of losing their employer coverage.

Pressed by TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro, Fehrnstrom said those who currently lack coverage because they have pre-existing conditions would need their states to implement their own laws — like Romney’s own Massachusetts health care law — that ban insurance company from discriminating against sick people.

“We’d like to see states do what Massachusetts did,” Fehrnstrom said. “In Massachusetts we have a ban on pre-existing conditions.”

From Twitter, to Facebook, to weblogs to the ideological news talkers: Republicans are jubilent, Democrats are frustrated and barely trying to rationalize or spin what they consider to be an Obama performance that let them and their arguments for government down.

But that’s just one view. Here is a cross-section of viewpoints from the news media and ideological websites.
Andrew Sullivan’s live blogging was noted by near consternation at Obama’s performance. Here are his conclusions, which are actually toned down from some of the ones he made while live blogging and on Twitter:

10.31 pm. Look: you know how much I love the guy, and you know how much of a high information viewer I am, and I can see the logic of some of Obama’s meandering, weak, professorial arguments. But this was a disaster for the president for the key people he needs to reach, and his effete, wonkish lectures may have jolted a lot of independents into giving Romney a second look.

Obama looked tired, even bored; he kept looking down; he had no crisp statements of passion or argument; he wasn’t there. He was entirely defensive, which may have been the strategy. But it was the wrong strategy. At the wrong moment.

The person with authority on that stage was Romney – offered it by one of the lamest moderators ever, and seized with relish. This was Romney the salesman. And my gut tells me he sold a few voters on a change tonight. It’s beyond depressing. But it’s true.

There are two more debates left. I have experienced many times the feeling that Obama just isn’t in it, that he’s on the ropes and not fighting back, and then he pulls it out. He got a little better over time tonight. But he pulled every punch. Maybe the next two will undo some of the damage. But I have to say I think it was extensive.

Powerline’s John Hinderaker declared the election over in a blog post headlind “It’s Over” and his preferred candidate Mitt Romney all but in the Oval Office:

I’ve been watching presidential debates for quite a few years, but I have never seen one like this. It wasn’t a TKO, it was a knockout. Mitt Romney was in control from the beginning. He was the alpha male, while Barack Obama was weak, hesitant, stuttering, often apologetic. The visuals were great for Romney and awful for Obama. Obama looked small, tired, defeated after four years of failure, out of ammo. One small point among many: Obama doesn’t even know how to stand at a podium, as he continually lifted up one leg. He would be below average as a high school debater.

There were 1,800 people on Power Line Live tonight, and the verdict was unanimous: it was a great night for the forces of good. Tweets through the evening tracked how the debate went. At one point, as it became obvious that Romney was dominating, my 16 year old daughter tweeted: “So uh is now a good time to mention that I’ve met Mitt Romney?” Iowahawk kept up a steady stream, including gems like: “‘What the hell is this? I was specifically told I’d be debating John Kerry.’–Inside Obama’s head.” And: “Breaking: Choom Gang revokes Obama’s membership.”

The Daily Kos’ founder MarKOS disagreed:

So looking at the snap polls, it’s clear that the president got spanked tonight. It’s one thing to play prevent defense, which is what he was doing, and it was another to completely ignore Mitt Romney and let lie after lie stand unchallenged. It was another thing to refuse to defend Social Security.
If you’ve got 67 percent of viewers saying Romney won (per CNN’s snap poll), that means a significant number of the president’s supporters were unhappy with the president’s performance. Just 25 percent gave Barack Obama the win. That’s gotta change.

That said, was there anything in this debate that would change the dynamics of the race? Was anything tonight worse than Romney’s Benghazi disaster, or his 47 percent video?

If debate victories led to electoral victories, we never would’ve had President George W. Bush. And we would’ve had a President Hillary Clinton. There was no gaffe that Republicans and the media can point to, no defining “moment” that will recast the race. What happened is that Romney looked livelier and more aggressive while Obama looked listless and disconnected. It certainly created a bad night for our side, but nothing lasting.

So what will happen moving forward? There will be aggressive fact checking, which may make a dent in Romney’s win, but I’m not confident of that. Romney’s favorabilities, if the snap polling is to be believed, will also improve. But nothing will knock Obama’s down, and in fact, that CBS snap poll found that people found Obama more empathetic.

The Politico (our note: this is not an unfunny satire by Roger Simon not marked as such but a good, solid analysis):

Maybe there are second chances in presidential campaigns.

And Mitt Romney’s could just be on the horizon, but any potential comeback will be triggered largely by whether he can turn the first debate tonight in his favor

According to Mike Allen’s Playbook, after weeks of less-than-positive media coverage of Romney, the race could break his way after tonight — if.

“Mitt Romney is finally catching some breaks and is poised for a surge in more positive coverage IF he exceeds expectations tonight,” Allen wrote.

Playbook said Vice President Joe Biden’s gaffe yesterday about “a middle class that has been buried the last four years,” a 2007 video of President Barack Obama that has animated the right wing but was largely ignored by mainstream media, and tightening polls in Virginia and Florida could give Romney momentum.

In the two battleground states, Obama and Romney are statistically tied, according to a NBC-Wall Street Journal-Marist poll of likely voters.

“If Romney rocks, he will put concerns about message and his campaign team to rest for few days — and put tougher attention back on Obama,” Allen wrote.

The New York Times:

If Mr. Romney’s goal was to show that he could project equal stature to the president, he succeeded, perhaps offering his campaign the lift that Republicans have been seeking. Mr. Obama often stopped short of challenging his rival’s specific policies and chose not to invoke some of the same arguments that his campaign has been making against Mr. Romney for months

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza listed winners and losers…and it was predictable which categories the two candidates held:

WINNERS
* Mitt Romney:
Romney needed a strong performance after roughly a month of unrelenting bad news — and even worse polling in swing states. And, he got it. Romney was extremely well-prepared and came across as someone more than ready to do the job for which he is running. He also, smartly, injected people he had met along the campaign trail to illustrate his policy points and drive home his connection to average people. A star turn for Romney at a time when he badly needed one….

…..* President Obama: The incumbent just seemed something short of engaged in tonight’s proceedings. Like his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama’s debate performance seemed purposely restrained — striving for a workmanlike competence but achieving something well short of that. Obama’s facial expressions seemed to alternate between grimly looking down at his podium and smirking when Romney said something with which he disagreed. Snapping at debate moderator Jim Lehrer — more on that later — didn’t help Obama either.

The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove:

The pundits may be calling Denver a slam-dunk for Romney, but David B. Givens, who analyzed the candidates’ mannerisms, disagrees: the governor looked ‘aggressive and manic, simultaneously,’ while Obama was ‘cool.’

The governor was manic and the president was, well, presidential during Wednesday night’s donnybrook in Denver.

“All in all, Barack Obama was measured and cool, nonverbally, while Mitt Romney was aggressive, interrupting, and speaking over the host many times,” said Gonzaga University anthropologist David B. Givens, who analyzed the candidates’ visual cues at the request of The Daily Beast.

.Obama and Romney unpacked thousands of words and dozens of practiced arguments during their first one-on-one at the University of Denver. But for the tens of millions of voters watching at home, what the candidates said might have been less important than how they looked while they were saying it.

No less an authority than former Vermont governor Howard Dean, a top-tier candidate during the 2004 Democratic primary campaign, said on ABC’s Sunday show This Week With George Stephanopoulos: “The key to a debate, if you want to see how it moves the American people, is to turn off the sound, watch the mannerisms. It’s not what they say. I mean, there may be a zinger and that could change things, but—it’s not what they say. It is their mannerisms. It’s how they come across.”

So we asked Givens, director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Wash., who has been scrutinizing the body language of televised debates since 1988, to describe the candidates’ mannerisms moment by moment. Here, using capitalized terms from his book, The Nonverbal Dictionary, and his expertise in primate social behavior, is what Givens saw:

Go to the link to read it in full.

USA Today:

When it was over, it was clear which side was more eager to talk about the debate. Republican surrogates immediately flooded the media center. The Democratic ones didn’t follow until several minutes later, and they left while the other side stayed to spin.

ABC News:

Right before the debate, I tweeted that Mitt Romney faced the almost impossible mission of being both likable and aggressive tonight. It truly is a daunting combination, especially for a man apparently so ill at ease with himself.

Incredibly, Romney managed to defy expectations. He was sharp, precise, and quick. He reminded me of those boxers who jumps from their corner every time the bell rings. Even more surprisingly, Romney showed wit. Some of his comebacks were clearly rehearsed, but other weren’t, like the memorable line in which he conveyed genuine surprise at the president’s (quite absurd) decision to open the debate – a solemn occasion if there ever was one – with an awkward celebration of his wedding anniversary.

Of course, Romney told several lies and this should not be taken lightly. But it was Barack Obama’s own despondency that allowed Romney to construct an entirely new persona on the stage. Romney won tonight. He earned it.

President Obama, on the other hand, baffled me. His rhythm wasn’t right, his demeanor was off-putting. His answers went on forever. His body language was amateurish. While taking notes, he looked like a scolded child. He didn’t glance at his opponent, and the gesture felt more like weakness than irritation. Worst of all, he seemed to completely lose control of the narrative.

If Obama ends up losing the election, many pages will be written on why the President decided to forgo the strategy that handed him the lead during the summer.

Los Angeles Times:

It always comes as a surprise, but incumbent presidents tend not to do very well in formal campaign debates. Gerald Ford stumbled against Jimmy Carter in 1976, Carter was pummeled by Ronald Reagan in 1980, Reagan fumbled in his first try in 1984, and so on.

On Wednesday evening, Barack Obama showed that he was no exception to the rule. Maybe he underestimated Mitt Romney, even though Romney did well in a long string of Republican primary debates last spring. Maybe the president has gotten unused to being challenged directly or — with crises across the Middle East — didn’t spend as much quality time on preparation as his opponent.

The explanation for Obama’s lackluster performance (and reporters will demand one) won’t matter. Even the details of the 90-minute debate, which got pretty wonky on taxes and Medicare, won’t matter for long. Obama did land a couple of zingers — notably when he asked whether Romney was withholding details of his proposals “because they’re so good” — but that won’t matter much either.

What matters, at least for a week or so, is that Romney has given the news media a new narrative. Until Wednesday, the campaign story was that Obama was building an apparently unshakable lead; now Obama looks as if he’s lost a step and Romney’s showing new life. That’s what pundits across the ideological spectrum said almost unanimously after the Denver debate. And not only the pundits; CBS News ran an instant poll of uncommitted voters, and they picked Romney as the winner of the debate, 46% to 22% (with 32% calling it a tie).

Booman:

I’ve seen some snap polls now that look very good for Romney. I’m not one to put my independent judgment over real-time polls, so it looks like Romney had a clear first-impression win tonight. If you want a little positive spin, a very large majority in these snap polls thought either that Obama was a more attractive candidate or that the debate didn’t change their opinion at all. Romney won a strong plurality of the people who’s opinions were changed, but that was still a minority. The flip side of that is that Romney helped himself relative to the president. He appears to have made a positive impression on a sizable number of people, and so he should expect to get some improvement in the polls from this.

However, the post debate debate will get underway in earnest tonight, and it will cut two ways. First, Obama’s debate performance will be criticized. Second, Romney’s debate performance will be scrutinized. Each candidate will take their share of hits in that process. It’s our job to help in the scrutiny part of that process. Unfortunately, I will be traveling to the White House tomorrow and it will be a very light blogging day for me as a result.

One last happy thought. By doing well tonight, Romney reversed the expectations game for the next debate, which will be a town-hall format. Relating to the common folk has been a constant challenge for Romney and the town hall format will be hard for him. So there’s a little bit of winning by losing element you can console yourself with.

Also, Obama got his wake-up call. So, you know, he’s awake now.

Eric Erickson:

There was a surreal moment after the debate last night. On CNN, the polling went overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney among debate watchers. Basically two-thirds of the American public who watched the debate claimed Romney won. A majority claimed Romney was with them on taxes, the economy, healthcare, their views of government, etc. He dominated.

A CBS poll of undecided voters who watched the debate mirrored the CNN poll.

Suddenly the Democrats took to the airwaves and twitter to rail against the polls oversampling Republicans and being too heavily skewed, too instant to be meaningful, and clearly not an accurate statistical sample of anything.

About the same time Barack Obama’s campaign team was melting down on television, the campaign sent out an email that did not even mention the Presidential debate. It just wanted more money.

The debate was so bad for Barack Obama I expect Eric Holder to send Jim Lehrer to GTMO. Barack Obama suddenly agrees with Republicans on defunding PBS. Without his precious TelePrompTer to feed his Gollumesque addiction to its illuminated, precious words, the President fell flat. Instead of John Kerry for a debate partner, the President should have just gone through airport security a few times or embraced BOHICA as a debate preparation strategy.

American Thinker:

To my eyes, Obama looked uncertain and a little scared — especially his eyes. Romney looked far more confident and in charge. Obama’s continual mention of a Romney tax cut of 5 trillion dollars, despite Romney claiming he had no such tax cut planned, worked against the president.

Romney was aggressive, yet polite and friendly, and demonstrated a stronger knowledge of issues than the president did.
The only question is how far the polls will move in Romney’s direction. And whether this weak performance by the president will demoralize his campaign. Obama appears to ahve been overmatched and outclassed.

The body language clearly sbowed Romney was in charge. Obama frequently looked down when Romney was speaking or made a point, and Romney looked right at Obama with clear eyes.

Balloon Juice:

Did President Obama stomp on Mitt Romney’s neck like I wanted him to? No. Was President Obama dynamic? No. Does it really matter? NO.

Here’s why. The media has been building up this debate as if it was going to be a game-changer. Folks expected Romney’s debate performance to be as much of a clusterfuck as his campaign is. It wasn’t. Romney stood up on two feet, with a weird grin that made him look like he was in gastrointestinal distress, and he lied. HE LIED. He exuded confidence when he did it, which, hooray!, I guess. But he lied.

President Obama was about as exciting as boiled ham, but it doesn’t matter. Why? Because he explained his policies and accomplishments—in far too professorial a manner for the setting, mind you—and told the truth about it.

Mitt Romney? HE LIED.

The Huffington Post:

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney spent much of his first presidential debate Wednesday walking back some of his core primary positions and highlighting similarities with President Barack Obama — from keeping bank regulations in place, bringing in more teachers, maintaining taxes on the wealthy, to making sure those with pre-existing conditions have health insurance.

But the president failed to respond effectively, drifting into his professorial demeanor and barely attempting to veil his annoyance with Romney. It wasn’t pretty, but Romney won, according to the general consensus among reporters and political operatives after the debate at the University of Denver.

Romney appeared more relaxed than Obama, who spent much of his time explaining policies he would likely rather be done selling by now. He hardly looked Romney in the eye during the debate.

There is one critical caveat, of course, in determining the winner of a debate: It’s difficult to know how the millions of voters, whose prisms are radically different than those of mainstream reporters, took in the debate. But, at minimum, Romney cleared the most critical bar, by appearing presidential.

Still, one issue continued to plague Romney: details. While he said he would end Obama programs, he was vague on how he would do so without eliminating a host of components he pledged to keep.

–As usual, Walter Shapiro nails it. From his Facebook page (so good I’ll boldface it):

Tonight’s debate can be best understood as a physics experiment: We now know what happens when a low-energy moderator collides with a low-energy president.

CBS News:

The first presidential debate of the 2012 general election cycle may have been the best night of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Romney entered the debate trailing the president in polls of battleground states, giving him incentive to be aggressive in order to close the gap against President Obama. And he was indeed aggressive, trotting out the much-discussed “zingers” he prepared ahead of time (“As president you’re entitled to your own house, your own plane, but not your own facts”) and repeatedly (if not always factually) attacking Mr. Obama’s record. He was enough of an alpha presence on stage that critics quickly took to attacking the debate moderator, Jim Lehrer, for letting Romney dictate the flow of the debate – despite the fact that he actually spoke for about four-and-a-half minutes less than the president.

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, entered the debate with an incentive to be cautious and protect his apparent lead. And cautious he was. The president made no mention of Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comments or his rival’s record at Bain Capital, despite the fact that his campaign has been hitting Romney hard on both issues. It’s understandable that the president would not want to risk coming off as mean-spirited toward his opponent in light of his frontrunner status. But his decision not to try to put Romney on the defensive meant Romney often seemed to be in control of the conversation. And that had the effect of elevating the challenger into someone who appeared very much to belong onstage with the president of the United States.

To be clear, the debate was by no means a disaster for the president. He had some strong moments, particularly when he criticized Romney’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher-like program and noted that “Romneycare” looks an awful lot like “Obamacare.” Mr. Obama avoided any major gaffes, as did his challenger. But his body language left something to be desired – too much looking down at the podium, too little energy – and at one point he appeared snippy when Lehrer tried to cut him off, complaining, “I had five seconds before you interrupted me.” Romney was not perfect – he tended to smirk while the president was speaking, for one thing – but he won the battle of appearances overall. And that particularly matters in a wonky debate like this one, when phrases like “Dodd-Frank” and “Simpson-Bowles” were casually thrown around despite the fact that many viewers have little-to-no familiarity with them.

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum:

All the talk on CNN seems to be about how Obama “looked like he didn’t want to be there.” I didn’t really see that myself. Obama certainly wasn’t crisp, which I find a little inexplicable, but that’s about the worst I saw.

Did Romney come armed with “loads of details”? Not even close. He certainly made an endless number of points, but there weren’t really many facts and figures there. Just a flurry of words. And that old Romney weirdness made a few appearances too. For example, this bit about what he’d cut from the budget: “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. Actually I like you, too.”

Matt Yglesias tweets: “It’s interesting that conservatives who think they don’t want Mitt to pivot to the center are clearly elated when he did it and it worked.” That’s true. Romney repeatedly noted that he agreed with Obama on various issues and repeatedly took rhetorically moderate positions. For example: “Regulation is essential. You can’t have a free market work if you don’t have regulation.” You sure wouldn’t have heard him say that during one of the primary debates.

….I think my disagreement with the media consensus is more over Romney’s performance than Obama’s. I agree that Obama didn’t bring his A game. But I didn’t think Romney was all that good either. Yes, he attacked, but he did it in a curiously hyperactive way, constantly insisting on getting in one more rebuttal and then using it to go over every single point that Obama had just made. I thought that was both confusing and exhausting. Romney also made frequent references to things that Beltway junkies understand but ordinary viewers probably didn’t. The “accounting treatment” for oil companies, for example, or jumping into a point about Dodd-Frank without explaining what Dodd-Frank is. And for what it’s worth, I suspect that Romney won’t do well in the post-debate fact checks either. It won’t be the disaster that Paul Ryan’s convention speech was, but he seemed pretty clearly a little faster and looser with the truth than Obama was.

The Week’s Marc Ambinder (one of the most solid analysts around):

Mitt Romney won this first debate, judging by style, by his ability to get the message out, and by substance. Whether he did well enough to swing the polls back to parity is questionable. The Republican echo-chamber is likely to cheer loudly and their enthusiasm will tick up. Democrats will mutter about why Obama didn’t mention Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe, and campaign outsiders will mumble about the campaign’s alleged insularity and arrogance.

Maybe the bar was set too low for Romney. He proved himself, yet again, in case you didn’t watch the GOP debates, to be a strong competitor in full command of his brief, and importantly, he was able to articulate a consistent message that differed from that of the president’s.

On almost every question, Romney found a way to fold in the premise that Obama’s over-reliance on government had hurt the middle class, and that Obama has done nothing to give anyone any reason to believe his next four years will be any different.

AND:

This is another problem for incumbents who believe they are smarter and more wily than their opponents: They are bound to be on the defensive in direct policy debates. Romney (as James Fallows has noted) is the consummate happy warrior in debates. Much was made of Obama’s mien — smirks, his head down, his unrefined responses; that stuff matters marginally for incumbents because voters already know that Obama is not the best policy debater in the land.

Just as Democrats are right to be cautious about Obama’s chance at running the table, Republicans should be cautious about believing that Romney was strong enough to fundamentally change the dynamics of the presidential race. Will women shift back to Romney, given the consistent hammering from Obama’s television ads? Probably not. It’s easy to get amped up about the effects of one debate. If Obama is consistently lackluster, what can be written off today as a rare lack of self-control from a man who is a master of it will turn into a story — a story of a president who is diffident and tired.

Nothing begets enthusiasm in the final weeks of a race like enthusiasm.

Why didn’t Obama do better? Here’s some speculation: He is not as good at these formats like Romney is. He was too cautious … even about appearing too flip and arrogant, which might have itself come off as arrogant; he didn’t clip his answers; he didn’t remember to say what he intended to say; he spent the day dealing with Turkey and Syria; he let his disdain for Romney show. I think all of those contributed to some degree. But fundamentally, when it comes to domestic policy, Obama just doesn’t have a very good affirmative argument to make. That’s a consequence of being a crisis president of a country where, as some are now saying, the old dismal is the new normal.


He gives them various grades. Go to the link and read his post in full.

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9 Comments

  1. Joe – I’ve been watching Presidential debates since Nixon/Kennedy and Obama’s performance was by far the worst I’ve ever seen. By comparison, Jimmy Carter looks like a debating giant. I suspect this will cause a 5% swing toward Romney in the national polls and Obama will now be behind in the swing states of Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Virginia and New Hampshire. The details of Obama’s disaster are too numerous to list but in essence he let Romney sound moderate without exposing any details of his plans.

  2. Yes, Obama was far, far from his A game, but what does a debate “win” really mean these days? Apparently it has little to do with substance, details, or consistency. It seems to be all about attitude. Obama appeared tired to me, but then he’s been occupied with a demanding job while Mitt has been focused on Debate Prep 101 for some time now. Just a couple observations, I agree with the Daily Beast, Mitt appeared to be manic. In fact I was wondering if maybe he’d dropped a white cross or two before the debate. Jim Lehrer, who I have great respect for, was a very poor moderatator this time out and was getting walked all over by Romney. One last point, anyone who is making up their mind who to vote for based on this debate is really without a clue. Substance, records, and truth are the only determining factors that really matter.

  3. Zephyr, I think winning is whether or not Romney convinces the those yet-to-be-convinced voters – whether they are low-information voters or moderate but busy educated voters. Romney made a clear move to the center, bucking roughly 18 months of supposed plans and ideas, at least in rhetoric. It sounds to me like he’d still lower rates for those at the top, which could still mean big cuts for high-earners, however there was no talk about capital gains taxes and no specifics were given about what deductions and credits would be removed. Ultimately, Romney stands to gain a fair bit while Obama – if he doesn’t shape up – stands to lose this election if he continues to perform like last night.

  4. What’s more, as I explained to my wife last night, is that Obama is in a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t position. On the heels of the conservative-media effort to race-bait, and likely from previous instances, Obama probably wants to shy away coming across as the “angry black man”.

    I’m trying to have faith – as an admitted Obama supporter (though not a fan-boy) – that this is a game of chess, not checkers, but last night was pretty abysmal for Obama “allowing” Romney to attack him, without appearing to fight back. Maybe, just maybe, Obama was allowing a few pawns (and perhaps a knight and rook based upon last night’s performance) to be spared for better position on the board in later debates.

  5. So you haven’t seen the CNN travesty polling numbers?

    CNN had a rigged snap poll at the end of the debate:

    White Southern over fifty conservatives, I kid you not that is IT – that is all that were polled. Check this:

    @noshock
    http://twitter.com/NoShock/sta.....49/photo/1

    And you wonder why Romney ran away with the polling? Are you kidding me?

  6. That is funny (if it wasn’t so ridiculous), wrh

  7. Polling or not, Obama blew it. Mitt Romney got up there, lied his little butt off about everything, pulled a brand new tax policy out of thin air, and Obama just stood there insipidly and let him do it. Yes, it’s been 4 years since he’s had a formal debate. Yes, he actually has a day job. But sheesh, Obama knows his policies and knows those of his opponent, why oh why would he just let Romney lie like that?

  8. The cartoon says it all….

  9. Maybe, just maybe, Obama was allowing a few pawns (and perhaps a knight and rook based upon last night’s performance) to be spared for better position on the board in later debates – steadystate

    I hope you’re right. It just seems unlikely he would act that laid back unless it was intentional. It was so out of character.

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