I didn’t watch the debate last night and I haven’t read any commentary on it yet today. So, y’all, what did you think?
Metric: at one point during the debate’s time slot Netflix crashed. I interpret that as either tremendous disinterest in the debate or the debate was boring or both.
Metric: after the Netflix crash I went over and looked at InTrade. Although the sentiment over there still reflected an overwhelming likelihood that the president would be re-elected, the president’s odds had already dropped 5 points while the debate was going on. I take it the president did not have a good night.
The New York Times commentators (mostly grudgingly) say that Mitt Romney won the debate. From Timothy Egan:
Mitt Romney clearly was more aggressive, more chipper, better focused on attacks against the president. Forget about the zingers he rehearsed — a few were launched, though they sounded flat. Romney was loaded with the Mormon equivalent of Red Bull, and it showed.
On cosmetics, on delivery and on zip, Romney won. He may move some people who think he’s a cold, unlikeable plutocrat. He was a warmer, more likeable plutocrat. You can change the man — and Thursday night’s Romney was clearly a polished remodel — but you can’t change the policies.
From Harold Meyerson:
Does all this matter, with so few voters out there who have yet to make up their minds? Hard to say, but Romney is sure to get a bounce in the tone of media coverage, and some major GOP donors who were about to spend their remaining dough on senatorial and congressional candidates might decide to throw more money Romney’s way. For his part, Obama will be under intense pressure to step up his game, be more engaged, come out blazing, in the two remaining debates. He needs to, and his Beltway supporters can’t count solely on the Nats to lift their spirits.
Colby King compares the debate to the first Patterson-Johansson boxing match:
After winning the heavyweight, title at age 21, Patterson dusted off three contenders who never should have joined him in the ring. But when he went up against Johansson, Sweden’s top heavyweight, Patterson met, well not quite his match, but, a fighter who wasn’t the least bit scared of him, and who could, most important of all, hit, and hit hard. Johansson whipped Patterson, knocking the champion down seven times in the third round before the referee stopped the fight.
Patterson regained his title in a rematch, and defeated Johansson in a third contest. But the similarity to tonight’s presidential debate is inescapable: Obama got his butt kicked in Denver by a contender who was well prepared, unafraid, and willing to take it to his opponent regardless of the rules of engagement. Romney put Obama on the canvas tonight.
Can the president clear his head, regain his footing, and find some fortitude within himself for the next contest? He had better do so. Otherwise, he has the title “former” in his future.
This is a president, dismissive and condescending to any opposition, who went into that debate in Denver and essentially got his head handed to him by better-prepared opponent.
What was especially damaging to Mr. Obama is that when it became clear early in the initial discussion of tax policy that Mitt Romney was going to take his argument to a deeper level, the president’s response was essentially to start cutting and pasting stock lines from speeches he’s been giving for years. After awhile, he looked like a guy who was rummaging through a drawer for old audio cassettes. “The oil industry gets $4 billion a year in corporate welfare.” He even rolled out the corporate jets.
The president sounded like someone who had simply run out of ideas. His challenger was elaborating detail on his policies, and the president was the candidate living in the past. His references to what he would do with a second term were minimal. Instead, he had to spend most of the 90 minutes trying to defend his policies from Mr. Romney’s critique.
The incumbency brings enormous advantages but it has its handicaps as well. You must inevitably defend your record.
If you had the sound turned off, Romney looked calm and affable through more of the debate than Obama did, and the incumbent president more often looked peeved. Romney’s default expression, whether genuine or forced, was a kind of smile; Obama’s, a kind of scowl. I can understand why Obama would feel exasperated by these claims and arguments. Every president is exasperated by what he considers facile claims about what he knows to be impossibly knotty problems. But he let it show.
That’s an important observation. Academic studies of popular reactions to presidential debates (yes, there are such things) suggest that people don’t consider the factual data being presented so much as the social cues. They listen to the debates as though they had the sound off.
The Romney campaign is predicated on the Obama Administration’s record of the last four years. The Obama campaign is predicated on Barack Obama being a better alternative than Mitt Romney. Based on the commentary on this debate Mitt Romney accomplished what he needed to by it while the president did not.
Andrew Sullivan (in his live-blog of the debate):
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.
Noodling a little more about this, 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.
Like most of those defending the president’s performance in the debate he’s looking at the information rather than the presentation and, as I noted above, that may not be how most people evaluate these debates.
Josh Marshall seems to be hoping that media fact-checking will provide a band-aid for the debate. He asks “Are they coming to have a discussion or coming to make a point?” Neither. They’re coming to leave an impression.