Political Animal


October 22, 2012 11:33 PM Post-Debate Spin & Assessment

By Ed Kilgore

The MSM reaction is similar to though a bit stronger than in the second debate: Obama won, but Mitt got another high-profile chance to repeat his “economic referendum” rap and reassure swing voters he isn’t determined to go to war with Iran or stick around in Afghanistan.

GOP spinners say Mitt did enough. They are definitely playing the “Mitt’s already winning” and/or “Mitt has Big Mo” cards.

The CBS snap poll of uncommitted voters (which gave Mitt a 24-point margin in the first debate) went to Obama by a 53-23 margin tonight.

CNN’s snap poll of all debate viewers (and this time they acknowledged this sample skews Republican) showed Obama winning 48-40. And PPP’s, which covered swing state viewers, showed Obama winning 53-42.

So taken as a whole, with Biden winning the Veep debate (though marginally) and Obama winning two of three presidential debates (the “rubber match” pretty clearly), the question now is whether that first debate gave Romney a decisive, irreversible advantage, either by carrying Romney across some “acceptability” threshold for “wrong track” undecided voters or by exciting conservatives beyond all reality.

If the answer is “no,” Obama’s in pretty good shape going into the last two weeks, assuming the Democratic GOTV “ground game” is as good as advertised. Certainly Romney did nothing tonight to attract voters not already inclined to back him.

Back early tomorrow to assess the debate and the reaction more carefully. Again, feel free to give your own assessment in the comment thread.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • SimonPaul on October 22, 2012 11:36 PM:

    "You sank my battleship!"


  • Yellow dog on October 22, 2012 11:40 PM:

    Romney said China wants world to be "free and open". Counts as a Jerry Ford moment methinks...

  • AndThenThere'sThat on October 22, 2012 11:48 PM:

    Just wanted to thank you Mr. Kilgore for all your debate coverage!

  • MacGilroy on October 22, 2012 11:50 PM:

    ditto that!

    And - go Giants!

  • JM917 on October 23, 2012 12:08 AM:

    This debate was Romney's chance to reprise the 1980 Reagan-Carter debate, with Romney offering genial-looking reassurances to Middle America that he was no warmonger and putting away a desperately scrambling Obama/Carter with "there you go again" put downs.

    Instead, Romney blew it. It was Obama who came across as commanding, "presidential," "authoritative," "in control," and the guy who's keeping Middle America safe. Romney was the wheel-spinner who's all over the map--including proud boasts of having made Massachusetts fourth- and eighth-graders Number One.

    I was watching the debate trying to imagine a couple of real-life undecided (but NOT low-information) voters whom I've actually met while knocking on doors for Obama here in Virginia. And that's the way I'd see them reacting. I'm going to check back with them tomorrow and try to get their reaction.

    Good job, Mr. President! You did what you had to do. And those steely glowers at Willard across the table really seem to have unnerved him and made him squirm, despite that frozen dumb grin.

  • JM917 on October 23, 2012 12:10 AM:

    I too want to add my thanks to Ed Kilgore for his excellent coverage. Much appreciated.

  • Varecia on October 23, 2012 12:10 AM:

    "...If the answer is no, Obama’s in pretty good shape going into the last two weeks, assuming the Democratic GOTV ground game is as good as advertised..."

    It's good, but to make it better everyone who reads this blog and supports Obama can do their part to make it even better. Sign up to canvass door to door! And then sign up to canvass door to door...AGAIN! If you've never done so before, you will be trained and will have someone to canvass with you. It's a great way to get a handle on how things are going in your area, and it helps to turn that election tension into action.

  • AMS on October 23, 2012 12:11 AM:

    My take: Romney took a dive on foreign policy to avoid alienating swing voters who are leaning toward voting for him on the economy.

    The campaign decided that Mitt could only hurt himself on foreign policy because 1. he and his running mate are completely inexperienced 2. he's already proven himself maladroit on the world stage and 3. the bellicose neocon policies of his advisors are very unpopular with the American people in general and swing voters in particular. Mitt and his handlers concluded that the election won't be won or lost on foreign policy, but on the economy, where they think their candidate has the advantage. So they decided tonight to cede foreign policy to Obama to send a message to undecideds: "See? Romney won't embroil us in war with Iran in six months after all, so go ahead and vote for him on economic issues." Will it work? We'll see.

  • Hue an cry on October 23, 2012 12:35 AM:

    Hilarious and also laughably pathetic watching Mitt's apologists Michael Steele and Steve Schmidt pretty much say it doesn't matter if Mitt said untruths or had a way too obvious "me-too" agreement with the president's policies, just so he didn't gaffe or royally screw up.

    Or former Gov. Pataki putting out some obvious spin lies to support Romney, then apparently kicking out the plug as John Kerry successfully counteracted apologist Pataki and that feed was lost. :>)
    Even one of the financial elites' crowd, Larry Kudrow, lamented that Romney was on *valium* during the debate.
    It was noted as well that Fox was *especially subdued* during the post-debate period.
    Tweets spoke of a big time Nixon comparison as Romney showed considerable facial sweat. I saw it too on my big screen HDTV. Ugh and yuck.
    Oh--the sweat!!

    And post polls show Obama the clear winner.

    Brilliant: 47% surreptitious Romney tape to rich doners outer David Corn of the Nation Magazine observed there is no joy in Neo-Con-Ville tonight, calling Mitt's responses "Crazy World"...Mitt he should be treated at Boca Raton's emergency room for major whiplash.

    I will say my heart soars like an eagle.

    Big win for President Obama.

    I also saw Romney reach for hands to shake in the audience after the debate where there were none extended to him, as others were enthusiastic, shouting and waving for the president!
    P.S. I am pretty sure undecided voters are attention-seeking types without a core or even a brain????

  • thebewilderness on October 23, 2012 12:38 AM:

    I am very curious to know how many low information voters actually look at a map to try to figure out how exactly Iran's route to the sea runs through Syria.

  • coralsea on October 23, 2012 12:41 AM:

    It's been over two years since I last tuned in to cnn; longer still since clogging my cpu by visiting their website.

    Can somebody tell me what in the hell happened to that once-great organization? Did the undead Murdoch add that to his ghastly propaganda web when I wasn't paying attention?

  • coralsea on October 23, 2012 12:43 AM:

    It's been over two years since I last tuned in to cnn; longer still since clogging my cpu by visiting their website.

    Can somebody tell me what in the hell happened to that once-great organization? Did the undead Murdoch add that to his ghastly propaganda web when I wasn't paying attention?

  • exlibra on October 23, 2012 12:44 AM:

    thebewilderness, @12:38AM

    That route starts right at Sarah Palin's rear window and goes through Russia.

  • del on October 23, 2012 12:49 AM:

    First, let me say, there were scary words that left the mouth of the challenger. There are those who are in the Muslim world we must show to be civilized? We must teach them to be against Islamist extremist? I may have heard wrong as they often misspeak, but were words such actually spoke? Let me step back and yell for a second to get off my frustration.


    Whew!!! Had to get that out as that is the same crap we heard from the administration that took us down that road. Why are they all around now trying the same road?

  • RonByers on October 23, 2012 12:50 AM:

    Somebody, I think it was Chuck Todd, said something pretty bright. Playing prevent defense in a tight game generally prevents the winning team in a close game from winning. Tonight Romney, believing he had Mittmentium, prevented himself from winning the election. Touchdown Obama.

    Me too is a bad strategy when you have preached the Neo-Con dogma during the campaign. It makes Romney look like the panderbear he is. Big, big screw up for Romney adivsors.

  • TCinLA on October 23, 2012 1:00 AM:

    God I wish debate 2 and 3 and the VP debate could wash away debate 1, but NO. Look at the polls: Obama on a nice upward slope from the convention till Debate #1, at which point he goes over a cliff. No real recover from VP debate or Debate #2 and I doubt #3 changed anything. Before #1 he was cruising to victory and so was the Senate and House. Since? Not so much.

    In a close election like this, one bad early performance was all it took. Those who think otherwise are "whistling past the graveyard."

    I wish to hell I was wrong!

  • Len S. on October 23, 2012 1:16 AM:

    You're wrong. The polls started to tighten before the first debate. Whatever 'support" Obama had before that first debate was obviously pretty soft. And if people are going to make their decisions on the basis of one debate then I really don't know what to say.

  • howard on October 23, 2012 2:10 AM:

    tcinla, really, as len s. just noted, the polls were tightening in advance of the first debate, and some of us expected them to (after all, the great nate silver was consistently showing that obama's odds of winning "today" were better than winning in november because the race was likely to tighten).

    why? because sooner or later, the republicans who have been turned off by romney had to find a reason to vote for him, and if they want to call it the "first debate," well, who am i to stop them?

    but that said, there has been no moment - none - where it looked as though romney were heading towards a breakthrough in the electoral college.

    don't forget: bush won the popular vote by north of 3 million in '04, but he won the presidency on the strength of 120,000 votes in ohio.

    it doesn't matter whether romney wins texas with 60 or 70 or 80 percent of the vote, and there's at least some suggestive internals that the bulk of his run-up has been in the south, where it hasn't swayed a single electoral vote that wasn't already his.

    this always figured to be a tight election decided by a few million low information voters in a handful of swing states: nothing has changed, and no one is whistling by a graveyard.

    except the romney supporters who claim they have momentum, in shades of rove in the last days of 2004....

  • James M on October 23, 2012 6:42 AM:

    Mitt Romney is the 'once and future' presidential candidate. I don't think we will ever see another candidate like him. One writer referred to him as a 'quantum'. He is willing to deny positions that he has taken literally days ago! I can only guess that he assumes:

    1. After seeing him sink like a stone in the polls, his conservative base will give Mr. Romney the leeway to run away from any and all of his previous positions if that is what it takes to win.

    2. The 'undecideds' are dumb as bricks. Not only that, they are distracted bricks. They have so little interest or knowledge of the issues that they can be lied to with impunity.

    Also, TCinLA, I am with howard above. I think BO is still in pretty good shape. As Ron Reiner said, "President Obama is not running for President of the U.S. He is running for President of Ohio!".

    I think that is true, and as long as BO maintains his lead there we can sleep well at night!

  • Edgewater Joe on October 23, 2012 7:51 AM:

    There is historical precedent with a bad first debate, only to come roaring back for incumbents. happened in '80, '84, and to an extent '04. In those years, once the President reestablished himself in that last debate, those races were restored to the dynamics of the pre-debate polls. So if that holds, Obama should reestablish a solid 5-point national lead with comfortable swing state margins.

    My main concerns about the debate were slightly more mundane: did Monday Night Football and the baseball game hold down the viewership, and did the fact that the debate itself (aside from the zingers) was also the most boring of the four?

    I think Obama gets a bounce out of this, and it's a very, very good time to have one.

  • Kathryn on October 23, 2012 8:23 AM:

    The estimable Mudcat Saunders quite rightly said that Pres. Obama played prevent defense during the first debate, which certainly was correct, and last night we saw Mitt Rommey do the same, as Ron Byers points out. I believe the first debate cost Pres. Obama because he seemed passive and allowed Rommey to lie about many issues and about him without pushback. Last night the president was confident and forceful and noticeably better informed. He had to resort to telling viewers Romney's positions prior to the debate which Romney now disavows or ignores or something. Romney did look uncomfortable and almost medicated especially when you consider his hyped on Red Bull prior debate performances. It was, of course, all performance to soothe undecideds and assure them he was no Dick Cheney, which is how he has campaigned for months and years. Happy to see the CBS flash poll but hard to say how much this will cost Romney. The base could not be pleased but will vote for him regardless, undecideds, who knows? Should he win, Mitt Romney will allow his neo con advisers free rein in foreign policy and Grover Norquist/Paul Ryan will call the shots on economic policy. He desires to be the first Mormon president that is all. I would sleep better at night if I thought more voters understood what a empty, cynical suit Mitt Romney is.

  • truthbetold on October 23, 2012 8:51 AM:

    The office of president is just a prize to Romney not a job.

  • T2 on October 23, 2012 8:53 AM:

    MItt won the first debate by essentially lying straight into the face of the nation. If that is the kind of president we want, he'll win. But it will require the votes of people who don't mind being lied to.

  • Keith M Ellis on October 23, 2012 9:17 AM:

    I'm a bit flummoxed because I confidently predicted that there'd be no sense in which Romney would follow (not truly, but coincidentally) Keller's NYT advice (about which Ed blogged yesterday) to embrace moderate foreign policy positions. It seems that in some cases, he did, as in the case of not implying a possible intervention in Syria, refusing to say that he'd support Israel if they bombed Iran, and a nod toward peace in Palestine.

    Those surprise me for the most part because as long as he avoided making any concrete proposals/commitments for American military action (which will, I agree, make swing voters nervous), those swing voters do prefer a more hawkish stance over a dovish stance.

    What doesn't surprise me is that he made sure to avoid appearing to be a warmonger. Because, again, while swing voters may in general prefer some hawkishness, given the last ten years they also aren't inclined to rush into any more wars. I just don't think that he actually needed to embrace any specific moderate, dovish positions in order to avoid appearing as a warmongerer. He could have accomplished this by being relentlessly general and non-specific, offering platitudes concerning diplomacy along with tough-sounding rhetoric. But I do think that this was three-quarters of what he did and intended to do.

    Nevertheless, I fully admit that I was wrong in thinking and predicting that he'd not articulate any of these specific moderate positions at all.

    In my defense, though, I'm not sure how much this helped him. It certainly didn't seem to give him the edge he seemed to have by tacking toward the center on domestic policy. While, at the same time, the fact of the matter is that Obama is pretty hawkish and emphasized some of that. My main argument yesterday is that overall American public opinion is hawkish and not dovish, and this is true of Obama. This is partly why the hard right is so extremely hawkish and, well, explicitly warmongering. And, sure, Romney needed to present himself to the swing voters as not being in that crowd (though of course we all realize that they will dictate his foreign policy, if elected).

    @AMS, wrote: "...the bellicose neocon policies of his advisors are very unpopular with the American people in general and swing voters in particular."

    Yeah, I totally disagree with this. I do agree that, right now, voters in general and swing voters in particular are tired of war and are turned-off by specific proposals for intervention. But I think that, in contrast, they're generally positively predisposed toward bellicosity, not against it. And, always, always, when military intervention is actually engaged in, these voters largely line up behind it. The opposition to militarism is always very soft, the willingness to embrace militarism is slightly reluctant but inevitable.

    Sure, these voters absolutely don't want to hear about a possible intervention in Iran or Syria. But they'd be happy to hear harsh rhetoric against Iran, criticism of Obama's policies regarding preventing Iran from developing a bomb, and alarmist rhetoric about "islamic radicals" in Egypt, Syria, and Libya. They're fine with being frightened and they're fine with tough rhetorical posturing.

  • T-Rex on October 23, 2012 9:23 AM:

    Hue an cry, I usually don't have much patience with arguments over how a candidate looked during a debate (was it Al Gore's fault that the person who did his TV makeup screwed up?) but I couldn't ignore the look on Mitt's face during most of the second and third debates. Toward the beginning he smiled a few times, but then his face hardened into a tight-lipped grimace, and stayed that way for the rest of the 90 minutes. Now and then he gave his mirthless "heh heh heh" laugh, but he looked angry most of the time, and also looked as though he wished he were just about anywhere else. Obama was poised, and seemed to enjoy the debate. How much that will influence anyone I don't know, but Obama came across as the more likeable, as well as the more knowledgeable, man.

    And Captcha still sucks. But I love the second choice it's given me: vacuous inlyQA, the latter looking as though it was written by a drunken calligrapher.

  • dr. bloor on October 23, 2012 9:34 AM:

    Obama's ground game better be all that it's advertised to be and more. Unfortunately, the POTUS's weak-ass performance at the first-impression-forming, most-watched debate gave an opportunist an opportunity, and he's paying pretty dearly for it.

  • SecularAnimist on October 23, 2012 10:50 AM:

    For the first time in 25 years, there was no discussion of anthropogenic global warming in any of the debates this year -- not only was there no discussion, there was not even one single mention of it.

    And unlike previous presidential debates when the effects of global warming were only predictions, these debates occur at a time when, according to the United Nations, the global warming-driven mega-droughts that are devastating agriculture all over the world threaten to create a world-wide hunger crisis next year, and the effects of weather of mass destruction are costing the US economy tens of billions of dollars a year, and even the US military is saying that global warming is emerging as THE preeminent threat to US national security in the 21st century.

    It's unbelievable.

  • Neil B on October 23, 2012 2:46 PM:

    Obama did well enough but IIRC passed on the chance to bring up Mitt's crew of Bushist neocons, altho did dig him for still fighting the 80s.