Posted by: mutantpoodle | October 4, 2012


Well, that’s over.

Lot’s off people need to be talked off the ledge – I’m looking at you, Andrew Sullivan – even though I actually think Romney presented better than Obama.

But as much as the instant reaction and polls say Romney won, debates actually marinate a few days.  Romney didn’t actually stick to the truth – or even his past positions – and so it’s up to the Obama folks and, God help us, the fact checkers, to cast this debate as it really was: a slick pivot away from what Mitt has said he believes before. And it gives Obama a line of attack in their next debate (Joe Biden will get the first crack at it in a week): that Mitt will say anything to get elected.

It didn’t help that the debate commission chose the reanimated corpse of Jim Lehrer to sit in a chair in front of the stage.  Rachel Maddow suggested that Lehrer probably ruined last night’s format for good. I’m not sure if that’s true, but he certainly made a format I thought could be good – open, focused back and forth – into a disaster by ceding his role to Mitt Romney.

I remember in 2004, watching part of the first Presidential debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry on the TV screens in the Disney hall, and watching it again at home, and seeing Kerry kick Bush all over the screen. And Bush’s loss was more than just being on the defensive: incumbents, by definition, have to defend. But Bush didn’t seem to know what he was talking about. (Also: Bush was being attacked for problems completely of his own making.)

Obama didn’t have that issue. His problem was that he wasn’t concise and he stammered a bit in his law professor way. Maybe it was because the Mitt Romney who appeared in front of him was disavowing things he’d said just days earlier, but Obama wasn’t crisp. It seemed to me that Obama decided he wasn’t going to address Mitt’s mendacity head on (better to leave that to the media) but just put his response out there. Which, time and again, he did.

Since Obama didn’t take over from President Kerry, it’s clear that Bush righted his ship. And I expect that will happen here, too. For one thing, there’s already a whisper in the media that Mitt was being, well, Mitt.

First Read:

If Romney won the instant reactions from last night’s debate, it is more than possible that the Obama camp can win the next 24 hours. Why? Because Romney said several things that could make life difficult for him today or in the next debate. First, Romney declared, “I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.” But in addition to supporting the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which are skewed heavily to the wealthy, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center says that Romney’s tax plan would give the Top 0.1% an average tax cut of more than $246,000. Next, he stated that “there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit.” While he has said his plan will be paid for, he’s yet to lay out any SPECIFICS on how he’ll pay for it. Romney also said, “I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding.” But the Ryan budget plan, which Romney has said he’d sign into law, leads to long-term spending reductions in education. And Romney also didn’t disagree with the description that his Medicare plan would consist of “vouchers” for future retirees.

Or this NPR HeadlineRomney Goes On Offense, Pays For It In First Wave Of Fact Checks.

A competent campaign – and no matter how much Obama bungled last night, his campaign is competent – is going to hang Romney’s problems around him like an anvil. Like, say, this:

And I suspect that’s as bad a debate as you’ll get out of Obama, who was incredibly self-critical after his early debates with Hillary Clinton in 2007 & 2008, and will be more concise next time, and ready for the “I’ll say whatever sounds good” Mitt Romney that is apparently coming to all three.

If you need one more reason to be optimistic, I’ll give you two.

First, there’s very little data that show debates affect Presidential races. (I’d note, that in the Al Gore example cited at the link where a debate did matter, Gore was judged by the instant polls to have won the debate; it was in the aftermath that his performance was perceived as losing.)

Second, the electoral map is really, really tough for Romney. How tough? Assuming he loses Ohio – and he’s well behind there – and Obama holds Nevada OR Iowa, Romney can sweep New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and whichever of Nevada or Iowa Obama doesn’t hold, and still come up 3 electoral votes short.

Deep breaths, everyone. Obama’s was up 4 runs in the 7th inning and gave up a solo shot to right. He’s still ahead, and Romney only has two more at bats.

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