Posted by: mutantpoodle | October 17, 2012

Two debates later…

…and the biggest upshot of it is that I can read Andrew Sullivan again.

I seriously took a 10 day hiatus (mostly) from the Daily Dish, because Andrew had convinced himself that Barack Obama, with one poor debate, had lost the election.

That, of course, was nonsense. What Obama did in Denver is put his reelection at risk, and it means that, should he win, it will be more like a Bush 2004 victory than an Obama 2008 victory.

So he needed to do well. And he did.

But first, a quick note about Joe Biden. Here was my preview:

Now, for all that people think of Joe Biden as a gaffe machine (I think that reputation is exaggerated, but he does have a loose lips problem), it hasn’t shown itself as much in debates. Plus, Biden is good at aggressively taking on the other side. Another plus: I’d argue that Biden is more liberal than Obama, or at the very least, more outspoken about it. Finally, unlike 2008, when a) no one knew what Sarah Palin would do in a Vice-Presidential debate, and b) Biden had to step gently to avoid charges of bullying, in tonight’s event, he’s had a peek at the Romney-Ryan strategy (which is, essentially, “did we say that? we never said that!”) and he can go all out.  One can only hope for a Bentsen-Quayle moment.

And then Paul Ryan went and mentioned John Kennedy. Let’s just stipulate that, going forward, no wet-behind-the-ears GOP vice presidential candidate should ever mention John Kennedy to make a point again.

The value of the Vice Presidential debate was to get die-hard Democrats to put the Xanax away and get up off their couches. It had the same cathartic message  as Bill Clinton’s convention speech, the “you’re not crazy – this shit doesn’t add up” reassurance.

Other than that, it didn’t matter much. But it did spawn an awesome Saturday Night Live take, notable as much for  their “Martha Raddatz” punking Jim Lehrer midstream as for the candidate spoofing.

But last night mattered.

I think the debate was mostly a sustained victory for Obama. Romney still ran around like a white mouse on amphetamines, and he got his traditional shots in, but Obama hit back, hard. And there were several moments were Romney appeared to be, alternatively, bullying, condescending, and, in the case of Libya, small. He bullied Candy Crowley – or tried to, and paid a desperately steep price when she fact-checked him into the ground on the President’s Rose Garden statement on Libya, and you can see, in the clip above, that Romney was, shall we say, flummoxed, and stammered for virtually the only time I can remember the whole night.

I think that will be one of three lingering moments of the debate, and  one that will reinforce an image of Romney as a say anything/do anything guy. It resurrects his worst week this fall that wasn’t about the 47% – which was, of course, his craven politicization of the four deaths in Benghazi. Obama’s rejoinder to him had moral force, and it will get replayed everywhere but Fox News in the days ahead.

As will Obama’s quip about his pension fund being smaller than Romney’s.

But I think the evening left an enduring impression of Mitt Romney as, well, kind of a jerk. He was condescending to Obama and, in ways that must have made millions of women around the country wince, to Candy Crowley as well. Some highlights below, in a rapid response web ad:

Romney’s going to get hurt by fact checkers as well. The Binders of Women moment – and yes, there’s a tumbler for that – turns out to be a wee exaggeration. (I’d note that bragging about letting women leave early so they can go home and cook dinner is,at best, a mixed message.  I think feminists want men AND women to be able to spend time with their families.)

But I think the Mitt’s demeanor may hurt him the most. He’s clearly a guy who is used to being The Guy, and he doesn’t do well when he’s pushed off that pedestal.

Yesterday, before Andrew Sullivan lightened his heart, he quoted GOP strategist Mark Salter:

Romney doesn’t need to elevate his game [tonight]. He just needs to be as assertive, gracious and unflappable as he was the last time — not an easy task but one we now know he’s capable of achieving. No matter how improved the president is tonight, he’s unlikely to reverse Romney’s momentum. I believe the last debate changed the race fundamentally. It’s now trending in Romney’s favor. If he can find that sweet spot again, he’ll further reduce the likability gap with his opponent, and I think he’ll be the favorite to be our next president.

Sullivan went on to say he wished he could find a way to disagree.

Does anyone out there think that Mitt came off as gracious? Or (especially on Libya), unflappable?

The mistake a lot of people made after the first debate was to forget that there was a lot of campaign left, and that some new event would emerge to replace the first debate.

The second debate was such a (planned) event, and it left us with several moments that will not be kind to Romney.

There’s one more debate, on foreign policy, and while I expect Romney will hammer Obama on Libya again, he’s neutered himself on that line of attack, and I’m not sure he can swing the momentum back on that turf.

All this begs one question: what happened in Denver? And while there are lots of theories (Presidents get complacent, challengers have lots more practice, to name two), mine is this: Barack Obama doesn’t think much of Mitt Romney. In Denver, that  translated into being unprepared for how prepared and practiced Romney was.

That didn’t happen twice.

Before the first debate, I talked about Obama being a good counterpuncher. I thought that meant he’d parry and counter Romney’s attacks in real time, but it didn’t.

It turns out that last night was the counterpunch.

We’re 20 days out, and stuff can happen, but I’ll be sleeping better.

One more thing. I thought Candy Crowley did a pretty good job, but based on Martha Raddatz’s performance, I’d argue that all debate moderators should be, if not women, journalists who aren’t part of the DC culture.  Bring back four foreign correspondents who care not a whit whether they’re dining at Sally Quinn’s house on Saturday, and these events will get markedly better.

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