Well, it’s going down about how I expected…
(How Mitt Romney will win tonight’s debate)
After taking a little time last night and this morning to read some reactions and taking some time to process my own thoughts, I am ready to throw my two cents into the ring.
First of all, I hate it when a team loses a close game and then all the fans blame the officiating. Bad form. If the game wasn’t close, the refs’ calls would not influence the outcome. Bottom line, whomever won or lost the debate, leave poor Jim Lehrer alone!
Second of all, did Obama really lose? Or, more importantly, could Obama have won this at all?
As I wrote yesterday, there is no way that Romney was going to look bad last night. After everything that went down in September, even those of us who knew better were half expecting a drooling moron to stumble out onto stage with his shoelaces tied together.
With the expectations so low, there was no way that Romney wasn’t going to come off surprisingly well. Let’s not forget, one of the biggest selling points for him early on in the primaries was that he looked and spoke the most like a president out of anyone else in the GOP clown show field of contenders this year.
Yes, Romney looks and talks like a president. Casting a movie? He is your guy. Hiring a real president? Well, that is a different story.
My point is, Romney was made for last night. Obama does well, and I think he did well last night, more on the President later, but Romney’s a candidate perfectly built for this debate format. Stand up there, look and sound “presidential,” and don’t worry a bit about the hollow content of the words.
The way these debates are “judged,” and I use the term loosely, the candidate whose performance most resembles a cardboard cutout movie president is usually declared the winner in debates with last night’s format.
Couple this with the low expectations on Romney and Obama didn’t stand a chance last night.
Going in, I think his campaign knew it. And these guys and gals are true pros from Dover. 2008 and this year are two of the most seamless campaigns I’ve ever seen. No real mis-steps at all. Almost perfectly planned and executed. So, was this the first big “gaffe” of the campaign?
I think not.
I know a lot of Obama supporters were hungry for a decisive, knock out blow last night and mistakenly thought that Romney was primed to receive just such a blow, but he was not. As I said, there was no way Romney was going to lose this debate.
The only real question was how badly the President was going to get beaten last night, and how badly the loss was going to damage his re-election odds.
If Obama went in swinging, he would have looked desperate and cheap to many Americans, would have provided fodder for the Romney campaign through the entire month of October, and potentially would have walked away from last night with his campaign in real trouble.
Yes, the left was hungry for red meat, but the rest of the country wanted to see what Romney had to say. If Obama went after Romney hard last night, I think instead of the President being criticized for seeming a little off his game, a little tired, a little out of practice and, maybe, even a little nervous, I think the criticisms would have been much more harsh if he seemed angry, combative, or, God forbid, mean.
Such a performance would have been called “unpresidential.” And that is the worst label you can take away from one of these debates.
So, I believe, Obama intentionally stood back a little and let Romney have his night. The goal was damage control, in a sense. Let Romney have a little win, not a big win, and then hang him with his own words over the next couple weeks.
In fact, this is probably the second part of Team Obama’s strategy last night.
Let Romney feel good about how things were going, gently chide the worst of the attacks and spins, but just let him roll on, providing more and more amorphous “details” while contradicting his own stated policies over and over with more and more confidence, and then completely devastate him with swing state ads over the next few weeks before the election.
When looking at last night’s debate from this perspective, it would seem like Obama did achieve these goals.
Romney “won” his inevitable victory without really damaging Obama and the President didn’t give the Romney campaign much, if anything, to use against him later. And Romney flip flopped on issues to such a degree that there may not be enough time left in the campaign to call him on every point and detail, but more than enough time to effectively hang him with his own words.
It was a trap, I tell you… Now we’ll see if it worked.
A final thought on Obama’s performance. Perhaps some of his nervousness and apparent discomfort early on actually came from his feelings about last night’s strategy. Maybe Obama, too, wanted to go after Romney and wasn’t entirely comfortable with the strategy of laying low and letting Romney have his night. However, he showed a lot of poise, overall, in trusting his team and sticking to the game plan.
Of course, the Democrats’ ace in the hole is the format of the second debate. If Romney is the perfect candidate for last night’s format, then the town hall format of the next debate is Obama’s. The embarrassing Romney performance that many Democrats were hoping for last night may still be on the schedule… Just not in the time slot they expected. Romney has a bit of explaining to do to 47% of America, and it will be interesting to see how he handles their questions in the next debate.
I think we can all agree, dealing with the “public” is not one of Prince Romney’s strong points.
Then, if needed, Obama can always go after Romney hard in the third debate when the playing field is leveled and the expectations on Romney are higher, when he needs to do more than just show up with his pants on to win.
Let’s face it. The image of Romney as an incompetent moron was an unexpected gift keeping his campaign down and out through September, but it was unexpected and unsustainable. Let’s move past it now, early, and get back to the strategies that are really going to matter, really going to decide this election in the long run.
As for the embarrassing media commentary last night, I’ll leave it with this…
President Obama sucked it up tonight....
But we feel it was done on purpose. The key issues against Romney such as the 47% comment, offshore bank accounts, the ER health care comment, his tax returns...none of this was mentioned. Which even on a bad night you'd mention at least 1...if not more.
It seems Obama came out knowing Romney would go full out and decided you know, people have short memories it's better to hammer him on these issues the last 2 debates than explode with them in the first debate and have them forgotten weeks later.
Romney, to his credit, was well prepared. Though anyone who knows what's been going on knows that more than half of what he said tonight is a complete contradiction to what he's stood for the last 18 months. Hearing him say he likes regulation is something you have NEVER heard him say...ever. It's a complete 180 on what he's run on since the beginning.
The moderator was flat awful as well. The topics were disorganized and format was terrible.
Make no mistake though...Obama must come out stronger the next debate or Romney is going to close the gap in a hurry.
As Ed Schultz loses his mind on MSNBC and claims that Obama didn’t try to “win” the debate, the reality is that Romney gave the Obama people a treasure trove of lies to attack the Republican nominee with from now until the next debate. For Barack Obama this debate wasn’t about getting into some sort of ugly street fight. Voters like Obama exactly because he doesn’t do that. For Obama this debate was about who do you trust more?
Mitt Romney stood up and lied to the American people repeatedly. Obama is the trusted candidate with the vision. Romney is the challenger who had to be in chase mode because he is losing.
This debate wasn’t a game changer for Romney, despite what Republicans may think. His biggest problem is he is still Mitt Romney. While the media may give it to Romney, voters are still likely to stick with Obama."
…debates have a reach beyond the immediate bump or slide in the polls as they seep into the narrative and offer up ammunition for campaign commercials. With nearly two full weeks until the next presidential debate, the results of this one have a long time to hang around. Romney's solid performance can lead to new donations that, in turn, lead to better poll numbers in the following weeks.
In this way, debates are the opposite of conventions, in which we advise you to ignore the bump in the polls since it inevitably fades. After debates, we advise you to ignore the nonbump in the polls, because it may grow.
A note on the above clip: In this case, I think the Democrats come away with much more in the way of “ammunition for campaign commercials.” I suspect that this “victory” for Romney may turn out to be a fairly bittersweet one.
The consensus: Lehrer did not control the debate, failed to enforce the time limits, did not press the candidates enough and generally was steamrolled by the presidential candidates, Mitt Romney in particular.