Political Animal


October 03, 2012 11:05 PM Spin Room

By Ed Kilgore

I gather from brief glances at Twitter and initial reaction at NBC that Mitt won pretty big on style points.

A lot of progressives are beside themselves that Obama didn’t mention Bain Capital, didn’t mention the 47%, didn’t mention the Ryan Budget (except indirectly), didn’t mention inequality, didn’t mention abortion/contraception, didn’t mention immigration. Very heavy emphasis, as I noted, on Mitt’s “vagueness.”

Chuck Todd just adjudged it a clear win for Romney, and signs of poor preparation by Team Obama.

You know, I’m often a bad judge of these things because I really don’t give much of a damn about “energy levels” or “aggressiveness,” and I tend to care a lot when I know a candidate is lying through his or her teeth. But if viewers thought Obama was phoning it in, that will matter, and it will matter a lot more if they are being told by every talking head in Christendom that Romney won big.

The $64,000 question is whether this will have an impact on actual candidate preferences, which have been amazingly stable.

Watching the first surrogate up in the spin room, it’s Kelly Ayotte, and she seems near tears of joy.

Axelrod sticking to “vagueness” line. Concedes style points. Seems to be conceding debate, since he’s suggesting “buyer’s remorse” reaction later on. Brian Williams pressing him to forget about substance and view this as a “television presentation.”

One thing we can all agree on is that Lehrer was a terrible moderator tonight. No probing questions at all. No actual refereeing other than occasionally bitching about candidates getting prolix.

NBC folks now crowing about how substantive the debate was. If spending ten minutes on IPAB is your idea of “substance,” guess they’re right.

CBS instapoll has Romney winning by 46-22. The margin will go up after media coverage. I haven’t looked at MSNBC tonight, but apparently they (and especially Chris Mathews) are hating on Obama more than the Fox folks.

Clearly, talking heads are ecstatic that they’ve got a renewed “horse race” instead of a bleeding challenger.

I’ll sign off til morning. I haven’t had time to look at comments tonight, but am interested in reader reactions to the whole show. And remember: “Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of this endless election cycle.”


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.


  • max on October 03, 2012 11:12 PM:

    Clearly, talking heads are ecstatic that they’ve got a renewed “horse race” instead of a bleeding challenger.

    Exactly. That was the point of the operation. I kind of get the feeling Lehrer was trying to give Romney a break.

    Romney was literally trying to dominate the room by talking real loud. (So much for the nice guy routine.)

    Obama was mainly interested in not giving anybody any gaffes.

    As a practical matter there will be lots of yelling and fretting, but not of it will come to much in the end.

    ['Newt Gingrich is probably happy. Or maybe not.']

  • peej on October 03, 2012 11:16 PM:

    It'll be interesting to see the reaction breakdown by gender. Mitt reminded me of the stereotypical guy who always has to have the last word on everything. This may appeal to men (I don't know, not being one), but it's not very appealing to women.

  • caitlinfinnegan on October 03, 2012 11:17 PM:

    Just when I thought I could start watching cable news and the online papers, it looks like I need to burrow myself in a hole for the next 6 weeks. Obama needs to win, but I am so tired of this campaign season.

  • del on October 03, 2012 11:19 PM:

    Not only was he trying but he gave him a break each time he let him take over the debate. But in doing so, he let Romney talk himself into several corners. On defending his health care plan in Mass. In defending his statements on pre-exsitng conditions. On his statements against countries like CHina. There were traps set that I feel Romney feel into. How can he tell those under 55 who have paid all their lives into Social Security and Medicare that they will receive less than their thought on what they will receive when they signed up? That should be very interesting for those over 40 who should consider themselves in that group. Yes, this shall be interesting in the next few days as folks really dive into the substance.

  • troglodyte on October 03, 2012 11:19 PM:

    Agree that Obama's debate style was head-scratching. However, there are three of these debates, and he wont treat the others the same way. Romney is likely to persist in this debate style, which leaves him open for snappy counterpunches. How many pundits predicted that Romney would go with an Etch-a-Sketch-plus-Reagan-impersonation? Very little pandering to the Base, except in Romney's aggressive style.

  • Hue and Cry on October 03, 2012 11:20 PM:

    Tomorrow the fact checking begins and the many lies and misrepresentations of Mitt Romney will be probed and exposed. Those contradictions and points of contention and spin and magical thinking by Mitt Romney. It is more than style.
    That is what should and will follow.

  • Moonlight on October 03, 2012 11:27 PM:

    I actually thought President Obama did fine, even if he didn't "win" the debate. But for all of the Chicken Littles out there, here's a little perspective:

    "Reagan was the oldest president to have ever served (he was by this point 73), and there were many questions about his capacity to endure the grueling demands of the presidency, particularly after Reagan had a poor showing in his first debate with Mondale on October 7. He referred to having started going to church "here in Washington", although the debate was in Louisville, Kentucky, referred to military uniforms as "wardrobe," and admitted to being "confused," among other mistakes."


    President Reagan ended up winning 49 states and 59% of the popular vote. Take a deep breath people.

  • VaLiberal on October 03, 2012 11:29 PM:

    I thought it was a total mess (i.e. clusterf**k) - badly "designed" by the Commission, badly managed by Lehrer, and complete gobbledygook from both candidates. Romney still comes off as a bully.
    I watched some of Amy Goodman's coverage which added two third party candidates, Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson, addressing the issues Lehrer posed like grown-ups who actually had good, concrete policy ideas and showed a greater understanding of the issues than either Obama or Romney without all the pandering.

  • Peter C on October 03, 2012 11:30 PM:

    I think you can only say Romney won the debate if you define winning as looking straight into the camera and promising everyone a pony. If you want the school water fountains to dispense coca cola, you might vote for Romney as middle-school class president. If you've been paying attention to the campaign so far, Romney made no sense.

  • Yellowdog on October 03, 2012 11:33 PM:

    Romney stepped away from his own tax plan tonight. I have more questions than ever about what Romney would actually do as president. He has been all over the map on policy. Who knows what his real agenda would be. It seems endlessly malleable, and if he is questioned on it, he simply sticks to the current version, no matter what he said yesterday.

  • Sparko on October 03, 2012 11:35 PM:

    Look, I muted Romney quite a bit. He was unhinged and lost control of his campaign policies. We'll be able to play back his distortions and lies forever. CBS seems to have had a different audience. Romney was mean and belligerent. I know the pundits want a horse race, but in what way did being a callous rich dick help him?

    It was clear from the beginning that Lehrer was not capable of moderating. This was the meltdown debate that ended Lehrer's career. It was the most poorly structured debate I have ever seen. And that is the take-away. The Wurlitzer was going to say a steaming pile of dog shit won. A screaming pile of entitled arrogance was gold for those who make money in politics.

  • JoanneinDenver on October 03, 2012 11:39 PM:

    Obama has insulated himself. He does not get feedback from anyone outside his little group. But, I still don't understand why he wasn't able to answer Romney...if he had only listened to his own ads, he might. There is something going on, that I don't understand. I am sad, tonight.

  • Moonlight on October 03, 2012 11:42 PM:

    Mitt Romney needed a knockout punch. He needed for President Obama to have a Rick Perry moment. Obviously that come close to happening. Will the race tighten? Probably, but I'm guessing that's inevitable. This is a 50/50 country after all. Did Romney push himself over the top tonight? I don't think so. To beat Obama, Romney needs an economic collapse so devastating that voters throw up their hands and say, "I give up! You take over!" It has to be really really bad and getting worse. I'm biased, sure, but I honestly don't think we're anywhere near that point.

  • Joe Friday on October 03, 2012 11:42 PM:

    "I gather from brief glances at Twitter and initial reaction at NBC that Mitt won pretty big on style points."

    Sure, if your style of choice is loud, passionate, forceful, lying through your teeth.

  • hornblower on October 03, 2012 11:46 PM:

    Both campaigns have spent gobs of money. If the debates are so important maybe next time we can save the money and just go right to them.
    Six weeks from now no one will remember who won or lost this debate. But for the next few days the gasbags will blovate and try to push this contest to a dead heat. They may succeed in that effort but in the end we always get what we deserve.

  • Moonlight on October 03, 2012 11:48 PM:

    Correction: That should read "Obviously that *didn't* come close to happening."

  • Rita on October 03, 2012 11:54 PM:

    I could never have imagined such a terrible performance by the President. He was horrible, and I worry that those people who supposedly haven't 'made up their minds yet' were watching tonight. If they were, the President gave them all a reason to think Romney might be their candidate. I'm still in shock.

  • Joe Friday on October 03, 2012 11:58 PM:

    I notice a lot of pundits are raising the prior prediction from Chris "HEY HEY HEY" Cristie, that this debate would upturn the race in Willard's favor, so here's the test:

    Forget any national polling, do the polls in the battleground states move in Willard's favor, BEYOND THE MARGIN OF ERROR ?

    If not, he lost.

  • Hue and Cry on October 04, 2012 12:00 AM:

    See--it's already starting.

    As usual, the campaign is walking back Mitt the Etch A Sketch candidate's remarks:

    "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.

  • sjw on October 04, 2012 12:00 AM:

    It's pretty simple: when lots and lots of your friends say you sucked, you sucked. No way to spin it away.

    What Obama's debate prep worked on is beyond me ... Maybe he really just played basketball with Kerry et al. You can't tell me that he didn't manifest some of the same problems we saw tonight and then his team just let it slide ...

  • Varecia on October 04, 2012 12:00 AM:

    I don't think the debates will have any lasting impact on the election. I know what I hear from those I canvass, and all this is beside the point.

  • bayoustjohndavid on October 04, 2012 12:19 AM:

    I tuned it out about halfway through because it was too much like watching a cable talk show debate, albeit without the shouting. I think it's too easy to blame Lehrer when the format was too unstructured. I suppose you have to give the Romney people credit for realizing the format would reward the person who did the best job of hogging time and making as many points as possible, however dubious, while talking. If Lehrer had done a better job of moderating (from the Democratic point of view), the GOP spin about bias would have been all over tomorrow's news.

    Before I stopped paying attention to the debate, I noticed that a couple of Romney's zingers went unnoticed because of his delivery. The first time I thought it was really was that Romney was too robotic. The second time I realized it was that he was sacrificing the big response line's timing to the bigger goal of taking advantage of the format. Now I see that even MSNBC is playing the "raised five boys" line that he flubbed in order to hog the air time as if it was some wonderfully delivered line. That's ridiculous.

  • 'duardo on October 04, 2012 12:20 AM:

    Romney came across as desperate and frantic, which he is and Obama didn't. Does rudeness, and bullying score points? You tell me. Obama came across as much more presidential. Needs to work on ridding the hesitation and "uhs" from his answers. Next debate, put the school yard bully in his place, address him directly and dress him down. Get a little angry, controlled, but angry. Call the bully's bluff.People despise bulls and those that try to intimidate another.

  • Yellow dog on October 04, 2012 12:22 AM:

    Who is Mitt Romney and what does he believe? Those questions are bigger now than ever. You saw this evening a Romney doing his best to sound reasonable, bipartisan, and moderate. By morning, the unreasonable, no-compromise, immoderate party he leads will have him pulling back on every bit of moderation he offered. And he will do just that. He will be walking-back, explaining, and clarifying his remarks ad nauseam. Meanwhile, he will be trying to explain to a few fact-checkers how yellow is blue and red is green. And voters after a few more days will wonder all over again, just who Romney is and what he stands for.

  • 'duardo on October 04, 2012 12:24 AM:

    Romney came across as desperate and frantic, which he is and Obama didn't. Does rudeness, and bullying score points? You tell me. Obama came across as much more presidential. Needs to work on ridding the hesitation and "uhs" from his answers. Next debate, put the school yard bully in his place, address him directly and dress him down. Get a little angry, controlled, but angry. Call the bully's bluff.People despise bulls and those that try to intimidate another.

  • murphro2 on October 04, 2012 12:25 AM:

    There are two more debates. So, despite the meme that this is the only one that matters, it is really unlikely to decide many votes. It is funny and instructive that Romney wins all th0se style points by being Not-Romney. He looks compassionate by promoting things he has disowned in the past (Romneycare, regulation) or simply making things up (like that his plan covers pre-existing conditions). Looks very measured by saying "Yeah, there are parts of reform we want to keep; parts of Obamacare, etc. etc." But then why say you are going to totallly repeal them? Doesn't really add up. Obama hitting him on vagueness was spot on though perhaps too subtle for the media at this point. My prediction is that this performance by Romney will haunt him in the next debates as his words on the campaign trail completely belie what his says in the debates. So not only does he refuse to disclose his plans, but his plans change from venue to venue. Can almost see the ads write themselves.

    Add to this that Romney really needed to land a punch and did not really do it. He did not provide answers except when he was changing his story or making things up. My guess, despite all the hair pulling, is that Obama did not go at Romney the person too hard (47%, Bain, etc) on purpose. Obama let him fill the air with his ideas and what can we recall about them? Not much. 12 million new jobs? Nice number but, what? how? Seems like Obama also got more "zingers" in than Romney. Go figure.

  • meady on October 04, 2012 12:29 AM:

    @Peter C, I said the exact same thing. If aggressive bullying and blatant lying are being scored, Romney won. In my opinion, I don't think Romney's performance (I call it bullying) was good enough to mask his intentions for Medicare. I don't know, but I'm thinking some of those people over 65 have children that they are concerned about having medicare. Romney instead promised them a pony. No plan specifics. Abandoned many of his stances only to be walked back for his base. Blatant lies. Obama was not at his best, but I don't think this was that damaging a performance. The purpose of government is to enforce the Constitution and Declaration of Independence? Umm OK. Works for tea partiers, I would hope that anyone else won't take one debate performance to wipe out the entirety of bad kharma (and actuals acts) of a GOP governance.

  • cthulhu on October 04, 2012 12:33 AM:

    My take-away is that Romney may have won the battle but is still losing the war. Yes, it would have been great had the Pres hit harder against the lies but end result is that one candidate continues to be evasive and/or lie and the other other is on solid ground. The immediate optics were good for Romney but I suspect the Obama campaign is already dissecting the various claims and statements by Romney for new ads. Conversely, Obama didn't give the Romney folks much to work with. Kos noted that the same CNN snap poll that gave Romney the definitive win also found no change in both Romney and Obama's favorability. That's a bigger ball of wax, ultimately.

    We shall see what happens in the polling in the next few days...

  • Amusing Alias on October 04, 2012 12:33 AM:

    Andrew Sullivan believes Obama may have lost the election with his performance tonight. I agree. That's not a guy I want as my president. That's not to say I want Romney, but I sure don't want the pathetic loser that was on stage tonight leading my country.

  • Hue and Cry on October 04, 2012 12:35 AM:

    Best line on the web tonight:

    "Because this is Romney. It's his strategy - he lies and makes stuff up in front of the large audience, defends his lies when questioned, and then away from the large audience his campaign clarifies. Romney lies large in public and his campaign cleans it up in private."

    I eagerly await the fact checks that key into substance and not style.
    I think we need to step back and remember that the president has a day job. An enormously important one. Imagine what he deals with from dawn to dawn. Not to mention what went on today in the Middle East.

    Mitt r/money is an unemployed rich guy who has all day and sll night to prepare for debate.

    Romney talked so much tonight he likely opened up new avenues of etch a sketch criticisms. His cowboy-shoot-em-up style was sickening.
    Reminds me of Dubya.

  • Hieronymous Braintree on October 04, 2012 12:39 AM:

    Romney mopped the floor with Obama to the point where I wanted to pull my eyeballs out.

    Why did Obama not point out that GDP and employment has been historically higher under Democrats and lower under Republicans? Why did Obama not point out that the "magic of the marketplace" has given the United States a healthcare systym with the highest cost and worst quality of care in the industrialized world?

    An absolutely rotten performance. Holy fuck. Mitt might win.

  • exlibra on October 04, 2012 12:42 AM:

    Lehrer is either way "past it", or else in the can for Repubs. The way he let himself be steamrolled by overbearing Mitt, while scrupulously reining in Obama (and chastising him for running over time) was disgusting.

    Obama's performance was pretty poor, though he still got in more zingers than Romney (I counted only one from Romney -- the "you're not allowed your own facts). They were less noticeable though, because of a more natural delivery. And he managed to get in tons of facts (perhaps too many?), while Romney was just bleating "716 billion in Medicare cuts" like a demented parrot.

    I watched the debate (on TPM), but skipped the pundit spin. I did read the live blogging here and on Think Progress, and I read the fact checking/simultaneous reactions at NYTimes. And I was enormously cheered by the (periodic) reports from one of the NYT reporters who was watching the debate with two couples in Ohio. They, too, agreed that Obama wasn't at his best, but they all remained either committed to Obama or leaning Obama's way. Even the one who, at the beginning, was open to persuasion by Romney.

  • NealB on October 04, 2012 12:46 AM:

    It was annoying, I'd think, to any average person. Two blathering nitwits going on and neither of them really making more than a single clear sentence in a row. The non-sequitors, the incoherent syntax, the vacuousness. It was insulting. Lehrer has clearly gotten to the point after 30 years of doing these things that they're nothing but a circus, so he doesn't give a crap if either of the speakers have actually made anything clear. The arrogance and visible, audible contempt all three of the players in this bomb of a debate showed to the American people is disgusting. They profess to love America but the best either of them could do was that? Is it really possible that these two candidates are the best America can do in the midst of an ongoing economic crisis that is slowly destroying the futures of millions of lives across the country? Rich corporate America's got a lot to cheer about tonight, but I doubt it's Romney's performance they're cheering. It's the fact that there's a huge vacuum of leadership in Washington, so they get to continue to fill that void at whatever price they want. And the rest of us have to pay.

  • Grammy Pat on October 04, 2012 12:46 AM:

    I predict that fact-checking the debate will take over the news cycle for the next couple of days, and if it puts "Mitt's Mendacity" right up there for everyone to look at, the debate results may start to look different.

  • DJ on October 04, 2012 1:02 AM:

    Anyone stupid enough to put stock in Andrew Sullivan needs to step away from the computer and go to sleep.

  • Hue and Cry on October 04, 2012 1:27 AM:

    Funny you should say that, DJ--I was thinking I am so wound up I cannot sleep. I was thinking of how Andrew acted on Bill Maher's show, so disagreeable, interrupting and posturing.
    I am not watching the television pundits or reading online for the next two days and on the weekend I am volunteering at the Obama campaign site.

    It was noted on Current TV that the president arrived in Denver later in the afternoon and may have been tired, as well as not acclimated to the mile high city. I lived there for a couple years and traveled back east and out to Denver again a few times, and know it can affect your rhythm and even your lung power until you're there for a while.

  • Anonymous on October 04, 2012 1:40 AM:

    Romney may have been more aggressive but the fact checkers are going to nail him, his campaign will reverse stuff and Mitt will be seen again as a liar and flip flopper.

    Here's one thing I never see mentioned so maybe it only bugs me: Romney's way of unblinkingly looking at his opponents with that smirk is just plain creepy and rude. Has bugged me since the Republican primaries.

    I did like an observation I read elsewhere: that the president was at a disadvantage because he does play by the rules, is polite, and truthful. And that doesn't play as well as some blowhard lying through his teeth (when people don't know he's lying). Also (too), the president had to appear, well, presidential, and most certainly not as "an angry black man". And unlike Romney, he has a 24/7 job to do at the same time as running for office

    I say give it few days so people can get the fact checkers' view and also let the Romney campaign reverse a whole bunch of stuff. The president's campaign ads will write themselves.

  • TCinLA on October 04, 2012 1:49 AM:

    Obama blew it. Big time. Screwed the pooch.

    I keep trying to tell myself it was a sock puppet, not the president. HE DID EVERYTHING WRONG HE COULD DO!!!!!!!!

    Was he trying to lose? A friend of mine said "Jesus H. Christ, I could have done better up there with all the stage fright and no preparation other than reading newspapers regularly."

    If he does it this bad again, he loses.

    The two Davids stand exposed as the morons they have revealed themselves as over the past four years. If it was me, I'd shoot them.

  • bdop4 on October 04, 2012 2:02 AM:

    Wow, I sure hope the prognosticators who place their faith in the "fact checkers" are right, because I don't have nearly as much faith in the "undecided voter" as they have.

    When you have 50+ million people watching and your opponent lies through his teeth, my feeling is that it's best to kick his teeth in on national television. Blunt, short sentences stating facts that call bullshit.

    Anecdotes are fine on the campaign trail. In debates, you gotta smack the lies down, stat.

    Romney came into this debate on his back, and left on his feet. Now, Obama's got two debates to put him back on his back. Biden needs to rip Ryan a new asshole as well.

    Listen, I know everyone on this thread, and on Daily Kos and other liberal sites, know that Romney is full of shit. It's the morons who have been in a coma the last few years that will see Romney lie with conviction and think, "that sounds good." It's up to Obama to smash that pumpkin.

  • Varecia on October 04, 2012 2:11 AM:

    Get a grip, TCinLA! This election is going to be won--may have already been won--by the MONTHS of hard work by volunteers who've already spent their time organizing locally, calling and door knocking and nailing it down. How do I know? Because I'm one of those people. I know what I see and what I hear. Yes, it will be close, but I don't see all the solid support that has been there for MONTHS just evaporating into thin air. There was NOTHING in Romney's performance that would resonate in the least with the kind of Obama supporters I've encountered over and over and over again.

  • Varecia on October 04, 2012 2:14 AM:

    And I might add that if you're worried, convert that emotion into some concrete volunteering TOMORROW, and every day up to election day.

  • Ed Bardell on October 04, 2012 3:07 AM:

    Romney came off as a bully in the way he treated Jim Lehrer.
    Mr. Lehrer, the moderator after all, was unable on numerous
    occasions to interrupt Romney, even though he tried very hard,
    to the point that it embarassed me to see a grown man so
    overtalk an elder statesman who was, after all, the big chief

    Also, in the same vein, didn't Romney insist that a segment
    that Obama began that he should be the last to speak on it,
    and then go on to another segment that he began and yet
    it was he who got in the last word on that segment too?

    This was another case of bullying the moderator, who is, I
    must say, pretty well respected by a lot of elder people.

  • Ed Bardell on October 04, 2012 3:17 AM:

    I think that the perfect commercial FOR Obama just might
    be watching Jim Lehrer, the moderator (chief) of this debate,
    try, unsuccessfully, to interrupt Romney, who just raised his
    voice and obviously and deliberately and rudely overtalked,
    overvoiced, and bullied Lehrer.

    I cringed when I saw that.
    I think that everbody should look at that again.
    This is Romney - arrogant and self absorbed, or just
    egotistically rude. The "you do not get to interrupt me
    just because you are in charge of this debate!" kind of thing.

    I kept wishing that Mr. Lehrer had some sort of MUTE button!

  • square1 on October 04, 2012 3:18 AM:

    What's that you say? Mitt Romney lied? Gosh, nobody could have foreseen that happening. Maybe Obama will be prepared for a debate next time.

  • majun on October 04, 2012 4:32 AM:

    The headline tonight, "Big debate win for Romney"

    The story tomorrow night, "Romney loses fact check."

    Of course it is the headline that will dominate media coverage, for days to come, but no matter how the election turns out, the historical word on the debate is that Romney won big by looking Presidential but did it by lying through his teeth. Looking Presidential doesn't go far when there is nothing under the hair or in the suit. He still refuses to give any numbers and what hints he does allow don't make any sense. Cut taxes, eliminate loopholes so that everyone will have exactly the same money in their pockets after tax day, and that will ignite the economy and create jobs so fast that we won't know what to do with all the extra money? That's the plan? Seriously?

  • W.R. German on October 04, 2012 6:59 AM:

    Mitt's performance last night was Paul Ryan's convention speech redux. Warmly received by the pundits, then the lies got exposed and it all went pear-shaped, just like his miracle marathon time.

    Romney just tied himself to repealing Obamacare, turning Medicare into a voucher system for anyone younger than him, and he came across as a bullying creep. Can you imagine listening to that awful man for 4 years?

    And then he promised to fire Big Bird. If they ever set up a Jerk Hall Of Fame, I'll bet you $10,000 that Mitt's the first nominee.

  • Cranky Observer on October 04, 2012 7:11 AM:

    Here comes the Simpson-Bowles-Peterson Social Security chopping! Wheee!


    tectid Southoufe - 1st try

  • Bernard HP Lockhart-Gilroy on October 04, 2012 7:15 AM:

    I sort of wish Michele had cut Barrack's tie just before the debate started, to give him some juice...

    But was this any different than the President's usual rope-a-dope strategy? He didn't leave himself open to a body blow from Romney. He didn't inspire but he didn't repel. With two more debates, equally high pressure, will the governor keep it together or will he tire of this charade for the 47%?

    I tell myself that, throughout his political career, Barrack Obama has always played the long game, and he's usually come out a winner. So I'm willing to wait and see what unfolds.

  • Dredd on October 04, 2012 7:52 AM:

    Mr. Ed Kilgore gets it.

    Thanks for the post.

    It is contra-alchemy, and something the networks need to pick up on.

  • Ron Byers on October 04, 2012 7:58 AM:

    The problem wasn't Romney, the problem was the President. He came across as a whipped puppy. My wife screamed that he should look at Romney and not down at the floor like he was being cowed. He is the President. He should act like it.

  • Rip on October 04, 2012 8:12 AM:

    Watching MSNBC and reading various blogs after the debate, the group I watched it with were surprised at the level of dismay on the left. The people I watched it with found the debate pretty even. Admittedly, their bias towards Obama led them to think he was better on content, and his occasional expressions of contempt for Romney were shared, so they probably underestimated the "body language" part of the debate. Romney was given credit for not getting flustered and sticking to his talking points.

    My take away is that what was won and lost was not the debate itself but the expectations game. That despite the downplaying on both sides going in, there was expectation that Obama would be both affable and able to cut Romney off at the knees, while Romney would be both robotic and rattled when confronted with his own contradictions. So the idea that Romney looked "happier to be there", combined the left's disappointment that Obama didn't chant "47%, Bain Capital" in response to everything Romney said has translated into a major comeback for Mitt in the eyes of many.

    The "Romney won" media narrative will be more influential than anything said in the debate, at least short term, especially as there were no gaffes, zingers or shining moments to played in an endless loop, but despite the hand-wringing of the likes of Andrew Sullivan, I'd be surprised if there is any movement in the polls towards Romney over the next week. What he has gained is a two week reprieve from the media writing his obituary on a daily basis.

  • holyhandgrenaid on October 04, 2012 8:33 AM:

    @Bernard HP Lockhart-Gilroy

    Exactly what I was thinking- Obama (ad more so Axelrod and Plouffe) have a rich history of giving their opponents enough rope to hang themselves with before going in for the kill (mixing metaphors, yay!). I'm not inclined to be too worried, at least until we see how the next debate goes.

  • Stetson Kennedy on October 04, 2012 8:35 AM:

    Obama didn't appear to be well prepared at all. He continually referred to "studies" without elucidating what studies they were, opening up an opportunity for Romney to completely make up a study bashing ACA. For the life of me, I cannot see how the President didn't mention a recent Commonwealth Fund study that predicted Romneys HC plan would lead to 72 million uninsured by 2022 vs. 24 million under the ACA.

    Another example of poor ppreparation was Romney's retort that he had never heard of a tax exemption for a company moving jobs overseas. Technically, he's correct, but companies do get tax credits for building plants overseas, which has the same effect. How Obama didn't respond baffles me.

    I think we all realize that Obama is not a great debater, he lucked out in 2008 by facing a far worse one in McCain, and he hasn't had to debate in 4 years, while Romney has had plenty of practice over the last 6-9 months. Hopefully last night was all the practice reps BHO needs.

  • castanea on October 04, 2012 9:02 AM:


    I agree with your comments, and I'd only offer my belief, developed over years of political observation, that some folks on the left exist merely to be revel in dismay.

  • Stephen on October 04, 2012 9:11 AM:

    Romney told the American public that he wouldn't cut taxes, he would increase spending on education, increase spending on Medicare (take the 700 billion in savings and put it back into Medicare) and Republicans are excited ???

    Things certainly have changed....

  • John B. on October 04, 2012 9:15 AM:

    A lot of progressives are beside themselves

    True, that. Obama was flat and looked defeated. His constant hemming and hawing was maddeningly like... John Kerry. When I first heard that Kerry was playing the foil in Obama's debate preparation I began to worry. The problem with using a foil who is incapable of being crisp, to the point, genuinely funny, and engaging -- all Kerry's faults -- is that you will unconsciously adopt a lot of the same characteristics.

    Obama didn’t mention Bain Capital, didn’t mention the 47%, didn’t mention the Ryan Budget... didn’t mention inequality, didn’t mention abortion/contraception, didn’t mention immigration

    That is the sign of rotten prep... or to many viewers an absence of effective argument and counter-argument.

    Chuck Todd just adjudged it a clear win for Romney

    He would. Chuck Todd is a right-wing dolt. But most viewers astoundingly know even less than Todd so he probably is a good measure of viewer reaction.

    signs of poor preparation by Team Obama.

    No doubt about that at all. The worrisome thing about this is it reminds one of Obama's penchant in office to hire and depend upon centrists without a clue. His economic team... all those health care wonks who invented a Rube Goldberg style national health care plan instead of the far more sensible, sell-able, and efficient Medicare-for-All... his recovery plan that somehow omitted WPA-style infrastructure innovations that are visible, popular, and last as monuments to recovery.

    One last thing: from the get-go Obama should have been tagging Romney with Herbert Hooverism. To this hour, even the low-information voter knows Hoover and his obsession with budget-cutting, Wall Street friendly policies that drove the nation into the Great Depression.

    To those who are saying "yeah, but we have two more debates coming... Obama will come back" I remind you upwards of 50% of all voters in some 30+ states are voting BEFORE Election Day. Last night gives the MSM exactly what they wanted: a horse race, not a policy rout.

    Here's the bottom line: Mr. Obama is a centrist, not a liberal. The country may not realize it, but they want a liberal. When voters realize, however vaguely, that the man who is president is not what they need, not what excites them, not a man on whom they can pin their hopes, they will go for the other guy whoever he is.

    Last night was an unmitigated disaster for Obama, one born of his own innate conservatism. Perhaps there are ways to counter the coming Romney etch-a-sketch and restore the public's negative view of him as a Wall Street crony who can't be trusted, but it will require something dramatic, unexpected, and external to the debates itself.

    So far the only "October surprise" is President Obama has unmasked himself as a centrist New Democrat -- and no one wants that. No one.

    For those many, like me, who worked hard and donated much in 2008, and who have cut the president a great deal of slack, we'll still be holding our nose and voting for him. But the much-ballyhooed Independents have been lost.

  • Ted Frier on October 04, 2012 9:29 AM:

    "With all due respect, Governor, I'm not one of your boys."

    Would that have been a game changing moment in response to Romney's snide comment about his pestering sons? Would that have elevated the president and put Romney in his place after Romney's obvious attempt to monopolize the stage as the Alpha Male through sheer force of will, staying on offense by dismissing attacks as lies even when spot on, overwhelming the opposition with a manic blizzard of charges, countercharges and assertions just as he did in Massachusetts?

    Or would that have been the "angry black man" moment conservatives were hoping for, which may have been the whole point of their resurrecting a five year old video of the President praising the pastor he later repudiated, so as to put the President on notice the right was on hair-trigger alert to place the anti-race race card at the slightest provocation?

    Hard to know, but the ever-cautious Obama let the opportunity go by, and so let Romney dominate the stage.

  • Neil Bates on October 04, 2012 9:34 AM:

    In my opinion, the "verdict" on this debate shows how debased our commentariat has become. Instead of focusing and grading the way genuine debate referees do, they fixated on superficialities: which candidate showed energy, or agression, or "enthusiasm." These are shallow personal considerations, good for pumping up a horse race but diverting from demanding substance, arguing for one's position, and so on. Mr. Romney kept saying his tax cuts and extra military spending wouldn't result in lower revenue and even higher deficits, without explaining why we should believe him. That would be a big mark down by any authentic referee (as any high-schooler would find out), but the commentariat didn't care much. Even many of the media "factcheckers" went along for Romney's deceptive ride, being silly enough to point to his *just repeatedly saying* his plan would work somehow, as if that were a supporting argument or rebuttal of criticism. It's pathetic.

  • John B. on October 04, 2012 9:36 AM:

    Speaking of being incapable of crisp, to-the-point, convincing arguments that reassure and even excite voters, consider that the next debate puts Joe Biden on display. Think things can't get worse? Just wait for Foot-in-Mouth Joe to do his thing.

  • Peter C on October 04, 2012 9:39 AM:

    I think that if Obama had a fault, it was that he was polite in the face of Romney's lies. Obama accurately described Romney's plan and Romney immediately and repeatedly lied, in effect saying, 'my magic asterisk makes all of your criticism invalid'. The problem is that the magic asterisk doesn't exist.

    "Lowering tax rates will not make revenue go down or reduce the amount paid by rich people because of magic asterisk!"

    "Repealing Obamacare will not hurt people with pre-existing conditions because of magic asterisk!"

    All along, we've noted how utterly deceitful Romney's campaign has been. We've never seen this much lying.

    Obama's problem was that he didn't make Romney acknowledge his lies. BUT THAT'S ROMNEY'S CORE SKILL; he's immune to attempts to get him to admit his lies, and there's no polite way to make him do it. If it is possible, I think it takes something approaching a violent outburst of indignation. And Obama knows he must not show anger; that is a trap he cannot fall into.

  • Russell Sadler on October 04, 2012 9:41 AM:

    Romney did not shine last night. He shined us. Romney revealed himself to be the nakedly ambitious grifter that he is. He bullied the moderator into silence and proceeded to ignore the time limits and filibustered the evening, dominating the time of possession as we say in soccer. Throughout the evening he repeated the lies he has been called out for during the last 36 weeks -- see Steve Benen's series Mitt's Mendacity. It was shameful. Then Romney denied repeatedly that his much touted tax plan would reduce revenue by $5 trillion over ten years. That threw the President who didn't really know how to respond. Despite the rules for the "debate" carefully negotiated and agreed to by both sides. Romney isgored them when it suited him and demanded they be enforced when he wanted them. Obama appeared deflated to some extent.

    Obama's base wanted him to go for the jugular, despite the fact that's not hia style and never has been, so the liberals turned on him and said they were disappointed - again. I'm guessing few minds were changed.

    I won't waste my time watching the next debates -- Romney has turned them into political porn just like everything else he touches.

  • T2 on October 04, 2012 9:55 AM:

    Steve Benen and Kevin Drum both have spot-on reviews of last night's "debate". Romney must have broken a Mormon code and had a cup of coffee before hand. I found him quite irritatingly hyper, with a heavy dash of condescention. He treated the weak Lehrer with contempt. And he sounded great...the freedom to lie without shame or consequence can do that to a performance. And I saw this as more a performance than a "debate". And the President....sleep-walking through it like a man with a lot more important things on his mind - like, say, running the country instead of running a country club.

  • AfGuy on October 04, 2012 10:13 AM:

    Didn't watch (Apollo 13 seemed like a better choice) but have been reading the summations and commentary so it appears that Obama, for whatever reason, wasn't ready to go toe-to-toe with Romney last night.

    Obama was obviously the person on-stage but, based on some of the campaign advice he apparently has been receiving, I have this overwhelming desire to find out if either Axelrod or Messina have a "glass jaw" or are wearing a "cup".

    The test will NOT take long to administer to any given subject...

  • Jo Hargis on October 04, 2012 12:06 PM:

    I find it odd, some of the comments I hear about Obama's performance last night. On the one hand, pretty much everyone I've seen agrees Willard was pretty obnoxious, aggressive, bullying, which is a negative thing, yet they criticize Obama for NOT being the same way. I do agree Obama was a little off his game, he let some good opportunities pass him by, and was probably too "polite". But dayum! Any adults in the room had to have seen the difference in substance! Willard looked desperate and aggressive, Obama presented his points clearly and calmly.

    Lastly, anyone have a heat-seaking electric staple gun? That's what we need to pin Willard down. He was pinging all OVER the map with his answers. Just sitting watching it, I was truly disgusted with the lies, the constant lies. It's profoundly disturbing to me that a man, running for the highest office in the land, has no problem whatsoever standing in front of 40 million people and lying through his teeth. Is this arrogance? He just thinks people are too stupid to know?

    I found two remarks after the debate very interesting. One is his adviser, Fehrnstrom, who said no, people with pre-existing conditions would NOT likely be able to get insurance (the direct opposite of what Willard said in the debate) and Alex Castellanos, republican strategist, who said "Romney may have actually lost by winning", meaning that when the fact checkers get through with dissecting last night, it's going to be just like Ryan's convention speech: proven to be a total pack of lies.

    Willard just wasn't presidential. Does he think that blowhard, bully-aggressive attitude will fly when talking to foreign heads of states? Dealing with a delicate international situation? Nah, I'm not buying that. Arrogant and aggressive. Ugh.

  • Varecia on October 04, 2012 2:45 PM:

    A very unscientific poll of my neighbors--who don't have internet access and rely on T.V. for much of their political information: Romney came off as a rude, out of control boor, and Obama was the reasoned one.