By now, the pundits all agree that Mitt Romney won the debate. This time they are absolutely right. I think that this has been the most one-sided debate that I have ever seen. Romney put on the best performance possible. He was confident, polished, articulate and knowledgeable. He seemed to have a detailed knowledge of policies and statistics and was able to use that knowledge to articulate a positive vision for the future. He even seemed to be enjoying himself.
Obama, by contrast, put on the worst debate performance that I have ever seen, with the exception of Al Gore’s outbreak of Tourette’s Syndrome in the first debate of 2000. He seemed as though he would rather be doing anything else. He seemed unprepared and his statements were mostly recycled from his campaign speeches. He would attack Romney with straw man representations of Romney’s positions and then Romney would correct him. Romney, for his part, aggressively attacked Obama and kept reminding him and the viewers that Obama has been President for the last four years, something that Obama wanted people to forget. I was afraid that Romney might be perceived as too aggressive by some voters, but I don’t think that is the case. He managed to attack Obama without seeming to be a jerk. Obama is not used to being questioned or opposed. He does not like it and it showed.
In fact, Obama spent much of the time looking down at his shoes while Romney was speaking. He looked up when he was talking, but I think he was trying to pretend Romney wasn’t standing a few feet away, across the stage. Romney looked directly at Obama when he made his attacks, a tactic made more effective when the two men were shown on a split screen. Put simply, Romney seemed to know what he was talking about and Obama didn’t. If I were hiring someone to run my business, or my country, there is no question who I would trust.
Is this the end of the election? Can Obama recover? Of course he can. We still have a month before the election and a lot can happen. There are two more debates between the two candidates and we can be certain that Obama will be better prepared next time. I think, though, that the first debate will be the most important one in that it was the first chance for most voters to see the two men together, head to head, as it were. First impressions are important and even if Obama does well in the next two debates, he is going to have a lot of work to do to overcome the bad impression he generated in this debate.
Will the debates make a difference? I don’t think that very many people will switch their votes on the basis of who did better at any of these debates. A good performance cannot help but be beneficial to any candidate, while a bad performance has to hurt. People like to back a winner and are more likely to get out and vote for, and more importantly contribute money to, a candidate they think is likely to win. Romney’s excellent performance will help with voter turnout, if he can keep the momentum going.
I have to wonder why Obama gave such an unimpressive showing. His supporters have given a number of rather implausible reasons, the most incredible of which is Al Gore’s contention that Obama had not had enough time to become acclimated to Denver’s high altitude. Some have noted that as a sitting President who run uncontested in the primaries, Obama has had far less recent experience with debating than Romney, who must have sat through at least ten thousand of them. There is something to that, but Obama still could have been better prepared.
I think, that the reason has to do with Obama’s personality. He is not really well suited for the job of President, at least not in temperament. I think that he likes the idea of being President more than he likes the real job. If Ed Klein is correct in his book The Amateur, Obama has never been one to apply himself to policy details. His colleagues in the Illinois State Senate and later in the Senate noted that he seemed uninterested in the actual process of legislation, preferring to give stirring speeches to working on bills. He also seems to lack the kind of back-slapping conviviality of a Clinton or a Johnson and really seems to be something of an introvert. I think then, that a debate against an opponent over policy details and programs is simply not something Obama is good at and not something he particularly wanted to do, especially against an opponent he probably doesn’t like at all. He was probably over confident as well and I do not doubt he seriously underestimated Mitt Romney.
By the way, the most interesting spin from the Left, I have seen so far is that Romney only won because he surprised Obama with his constant lying. They want Obama to be more confrontational in the next debate, especially in bringing up Romney’s remarks about the “47%”. Good luck with that. I suspect that Obama didn’t bring that up, because they knew perfectly well that Romney would be ready with an answer and perhaps a comment about dwelling on irrelevancies rather than the nation’s future. Then too, there is always Obama’s “bitter clingers” remark to throw right back at him.