Morning Briefing: October 4th, 2012
5 Thoughts on the Debate
1. I’m not surprised Mitt Romney performed well (although he did better than I thought – more on that in a moment) with his proverbial back against the wall. This was a do-or-die moment for a guy that’s been running for the presidency for five years, and saw his bid for the White House slipping away. You’re not as successful in life as Romney has been by not seizing the moment. But what did surprise me is how bad President Obama was. His high point was wishing the First Lady a happy anniversary, and from that point on he looked as if he’d rather be having his toe-nails removed with a dull, rusty blade then on that stage. Obama came across like a police officer who pulls you over for doing 58 in a 55-mph zone. He walks up to your window, shrugs his shoulders, and in a bemused voice says “Yes, it’s lame I’m giving you this ticket right now, and my actions are indefensible, but I’ve got a quota to make so I have to be here.” The lack of tact, polish, and leadership projected by this president was breathtaking. I’m not sure how his disinterested, uncertain presentation doesn’t demoralize Democrats for at least a news cycle. Live by the stagecraft, die by the stagecraft.
2. How bad was it for Obama? He actually lost the question most in his wheelhouse: Romney’s hypocrisy on Romneycare vs. Obamacare. Romney’s position is indefensible, but he did give about the best answer he could. Still, this is a question Obama should own, and he couldn’t even project confident leadership on the most singular “achievement” of his administration (thanks again John Roberts). One moment was a microcosm of the night. During a prolonged discussion about the economy which laid bare the inconvenient truths of Obama’s failed record, Obama actually looked at the moderator and said, “You may want move on.” Translation: “throw me a fricking bone here – you’re with PBS for Pete’s sake!” On this night he wasn’t a president. Obama was every bit the amateur.
3. Romney’s opening answer laying out specifics of his economic plan and why it would work might have been the best answer in defense of traditional conservative ideological orthodoxy a Republican nominee for president has given in decades (1988?). For instance, Romney’s explanation of Spain’s financial meltdown was a very effective means of literally teaching free market economic principles to an American populace becoming increasingly ignorant of them, and a necessary tool to reach voters we can no longer take for granted share our assumptions. Yes, Romney spent too much time joining in the Left’s “soak the rich” meme in the beginning and his solutions to our problems still don’t go far enough. But even this Romney skeptic was appreciative of Romney’s willingness to do something John McCain and George W. Bush never did – defend and advance conservative principles against Democrat clichés and talking points on a national stage. Sure, his record in Massachusetts as governor is still heinous, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. I had friends of mine telling me it sounded like some of Romney’s answers came right from my radio show. Where has this Romney been all these years, and why didn’t he govern like this in Massachusetts? And I especially loved the tactic Romney used in talking about Medicare privatization, saying “me personally if I had a choice” I’d rather make my own decisions. That is an effective, non-threatening method of introducing conservative concepts into the mainstream without making it easy for the Democrat demagogues.
4. Two exchanges Wednesday night were Romney’s strongest case yet for the presidency, and he would be wise to turn them into his campaign message from here on out. First, Romney told Obama “I’ve been in business for 25 years, and I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Translation: “You’re out of your league – you may be a nice guy, but you’re not fit to be president.” That was a devastating blow, as was this line: “You don’t just pick winners and losers, you pick losers.” If those were the “zingers” Romney was reportedly working on, they paid off. Later, Obama kept droning on and on about government, sounding every bit like a guy who has spent his entire life in the subsidized sector. Romney’s response to this resulted in his highest marks from CNN’s focus group of Colorado swing voters when he defended our founding documents and principles versus statism. That shouldn’t be a surprise, because the Tea Party showed in the 2010 midterms that is a winning message. Republicans win when the American people see stark worldview and policy differences between us and Democrats, and Democrats win when they don’t.
5. This was the biggest presidential debate rout since Reagan-Carter in 1980. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being stellar, Romney scored about a 15. There is no doubt Romney will get a boost, the only question is how much. It reminded me of the debate dominance Newt Gingrich had prior to the South Carolina primary, which elevated him to the victory there (see, conservative principles on a national stage works every time its tried). In the end, the target audience is the suburbs of Ohio, because that’s where this election will be won or lost. I also suspect the president will make a strong comeback in the next debate, and the expectations will be high for Romney to match this one. Also, keep in mind that in the first Mondale-Reagan debate Mondale clearly won, and Reagan looked old and tired. Then Reagan won the next debate and won the biggest landslide in history. Still, Romney needed something to stop the president’s momentum and this debate did it. He bought himself more time to make his case, after wasting too much time for months now. However, the biggest winners tonight may be down ballot Republicans, who were close to getting caught up in Romney’s reverse coat-tails. If this debate tightens up the race like I expect it will, and Romney doesn’t walk back anything he said in this debate and stays on message, that can only help the overall cause.
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