The much anticipated, long pundit-ted first presidential debate of the 2012 election season finally broke over us all, energizing some and surprising others. The big 3 cable networks’ analysts set to work immediately after scoring the performance of both candidates. So who did win? Depending on your preferred method of spin that answer could well be up for grabs. But for this writer, (let me quickly admit I am a registered Democrat) I have to give the night to Mitt Romney.
The former governor of Massachusetts was strong, presenting his views clearly with a certainty he’s lacked for much of his campaign. This is something many among the Republican ranks had begged him for months to do. His image in front of a national audience was in dire need of repair given the previous month where some were riding him off as a loss. His performance last night will undoubtedly provide him with a bump among his Republican base and perhaps a bit in the battleground states where he’s fallen behind of late.
But presentation is only part of the debate. In these days of instant fact-checking the public is capable of sniffing out an untruth within minutes if not seconds. And riding the rails of a factless campaign train will come back to haunt you, probably in the form of an opponent’s attack ad. This is the area in which Romney faltered. More than once Mitt accused the President of the old adage “If you repeat something enough times people will start to believe it.” when Obama pressed Romney’s $5 trillion tax cuts to the wealthy. But Mitt played this strategy himself through much of the debate as he resurrected Sarah Palin’s Death Panels and the claim Obamacare is a government takeover of health care, Politifact’s Lies of the Year for 2009 and 2010 respectively.
He continued with the much discredited $716 billion cuts to Medicare through the health care reform. Yes, these cuts are there but unlike the Romney/Ryan budget proposal that money saved is returned to the Medicare system. Mitt goes on with a number of Republican favorites including Newt Gingrich’s food stamp president attack, 23 million out of work Americans – confounding when one realizes 8.4 million jobs were lost during the recession – , and Jon Boehner’s Obamacare is killing jobs.
As for Obama, his long-term supporters must be wondering what happened to the debate master from 2008. As one CNN pundit put it, “He looked like he wanted to be somewhere else.” Out of the 3 scheduled debates this was the one the President needed to shine, where he needed to defend his economic record. Instead everyone who tuned in was treated to an under-performing, distracted showing by what could be perceived as an embattled leader who seemed more interested in looking for the exit rather than sticking around for the main event. The absolute opposite of what it should have been and counter to what many expected.
Obama was presented with numerous chances to jump on Romney for the multitude of misrepresentations hurled at him but his heart apparently wasn’t in it. Perhaps he wished he was spending a romantic evening out with Michelle on their anniversary night rather than arguing with the guy vying for his job. Who wouldn’t, right? Whatever the reasons, not much else could be as important as bringing one’s ‘A’ game to this year’s presidential debates.
So what’s to come? Well there are two more presidential debates covering foreign and domestic issue and foreign policy. Both candidates have a couple more chances to bring there best, Romney has another opportunity to effectively challenge Obama and the President has two more shots to… well… to be counted as present. Perhaps the Obama campaign should reconsider their “no zingers” pledge for upcoming engagements because it’s not much a stretch to believe Romney will come armed with plenty more to lob the President’s way at their next meeting.