Democrat James Carville summed up Wednesday night’s presidential debate best: Mitt Romney looked like he wanted to be there. President Obama didn’t.
Each candidate scored points on specific topics, but Romney aggressively took the fight to Obama without coming off as snide or petulant. Obama, meanwhile, probably in an effort to appear above the fray, was listless at worst or professorial at best.
Romney came in needing to win, and Obama came in needing not to lose, and that is precisely how each approached the debate.
Obama fumbled a huge opportunity by never mentioning Romney’s “47 percent” comments. Those remarks at a Florida fundraiser in May had hurt the Republican, his own pollsters have said, and Obama could have connected with undecided voters by portraying Romney as a super-wealthy businessman who has written off half the country.
Instead, Obama came off as defensive, nipping at Romney on policy specifics while spending too little time convincing voters that he is the man to turn the economy around going forward.
Neither was convincing that he could tackle the nation’s budget deficit. Romney said he would name specifics, then came up only with cutting (miniscule) funding for PBS and repealing Obamacare (which the nonpartisan CBO says would add to the deficit). Obama, meanwhile,applauded the Bowles-Simpson plan – the very plan he has long ignored.
Maybe President Barack Obama was distracted Wednesday. After all, he and wife Michelle were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. Or maybe his team decided the best possible debate strategy was to act “presidential” and stay above the fray. Whatever the reason, Obama appeared lethargic at times and too reticent in the first presidential debate.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, was like a bulldog, making his case boldly and putting Obama on the defensive quite effectively. Romney won the debate, and with the race tight in the polls, he’s given himself a wedge to manage and overcome campaign missteps that have been persistently gnawing at him. He should be happy with his performance though he’ll face challenges from fact checkers about several of his assertions and his shifting positions.
Obama, though, lost this debate as much as Romney won it. He made his best showing in defending Obamacare – effectively pointing out that it was pretty much a clone of Romneycare in Massachusetts and that hasn’t turned into the job killer and costly boondoggle Romney says Obamacare will turn into. But he missed opportunities to go on the offensive. There was no mention of Romney’s infamous “47 percent” gaffe, immigration or other issues on which Romney was vulnerable.
Romney came off as more confident, energetic and aggressive. Both candidates are probably looking forward to the next debate – Obama for redemption, Romney to gain more ground with another win.
Peter St. Onge
This wasn’t the 47 percent guy, stumbling from one gaffe into another. It wasn’t the candidate who made independents uneasy by giving himself up to the extremes of his party. The Mitt Romney that debated Wednesday night was the nominee moderates in each party hoped for long ago. He won the debate in a rout.
From the start, Romney sought to calm voters who may have grown uncomfortable with him, telling middle-income Americans more than once that they would not bear the pain of his tax plan. Alternately, he was piercing, but pleasantly so, when explaining to those voters why they might be disappointed in the man they voted for in 2008. He reminded viewers of the promises Obama hadn’t kept on insurance costs and the debt – and when Obama objected, Romney said: “But you’ve been president for four years, you’ve been president for four years.” It was a line, delivered almost plaintively, that tapped into the frustration Americans feel with a stagnant economy.
Obama, meanwhile, was listless. In the two biggest moments of this election – his DNC speech and this debate – he’s been flat. Romney took full advantage. He was sure-footed, appropriately optimistic about his country, willing to express policy in big picture frames that resonate with voters. In doing all of that, he not only won the debate Americans care about more – domestic policy – but presented himself to doubters as a legitimate choice. A reasonable choice.