Last week I thought President Barack Obama won the town hall debate over his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The president was energetic and aggressive, he engaged the participants thus allowing him the opportunity to employ his trademark soaring rhetoric and smoothly got out his talking points. The downside on Obama’s end was that he came off as snide in tone and rude with his constant interruptions.
In contrast, the ex-Massachusetts governor was overly deferential to President Obama and unwisely chose to engage the president rather than the audience (and by extension millions of television viewers), inviting Obama to bogart his speaking time.
The upshot for Romney in the town hall debate was that he masterfully took apart the president’s record on domestic affairs, particularly concerning unemployment and the declining quality of life many Americans have endured over the past four years.
What happened on Monday night looked like a reenactment of last Tuesday’s debate, just with an emphasis on foreign policy issues and with a better debate moderator.
Credit CBS’ Bob Schieffer for “letting the boys play”, being even-handed and avoided drawing attention to himself.
The president was once again the aggressor swinging away at Romney, who for the most part played rope-a-dope though the ex-governor managed to connect with a few uppercuts.
And once again the CNN insta-poll gave Obama the win on points by eight points, only one more than the president’s insta-poll win in the townhall debate.
Liberals, who mocked Republican complaints about oversampling Democrats in battleground and national polls, have vociferously derided the GOP-heavy CNN insta-poll, though the network maintains that ithe poll is constructed to measure actual viewers and not necessarily the nation or likely electorate.
But the polls that matter going into November 6th are those taken in the swing states and though I sincerely felt Obama triumphed over Romney last week, the surveys taken in the days after the town hall debate reflected a growing Romney lead where he was in a deadlock and contracting poll deficits where the Republican trailed the president badly.
Which begs a few questions about presidential debates two and three.
Is it a case where Americans only cared about the first one, which would mirror what happened in 1960 when Richard Nixon failed to overcome bombing the first debate against John F. Kennedy with strong performances in the remaining debates?
Are the debates being drowned out by paid media and the polls reflecting the impact of increased spending and better advertising by the Romney camp?
Or as I speculated previously when trying to figure out why the president didn’t receive a bounce in the polls after his round two debate victory, that his win in the war of words was negated by his decidedly unpresidential mannerisms?
If the latter then President Obama did not help his re-election cause on Monday evening, where he came off as petulant. And while his “bayonets” line might have led to hearty cheers at debate watching parties in union halls in deep blue states, his demeaning tone and obvious flub about these war instruments being anachronistic (they’re not) will follow him, particularly in the snarky savage world of social media.
Expect to see a lot of marines to have some fun at their commander-in-chief’s expense with tweeted bayonet pics.
As for Romney, in my opinion, he left too much in the playbook and not enough on the field.
Perhaps in a bit of good humor hangover from the Al Smith dinner, Romney was ridiculously deferential to the president decided not to pursue the Benghazi matter, which is this White House’s greatest foreign policy failure and a visible symptom of the systematic problems of the administration’s global outlook.
Romney did manage to call the president out on the “apology tour” and he delivered the strongest line of the night where he eloquently stated that the United States does not dictate to the world but has “freed other nations from dictators”. Romney was also solid on Israel, challenging President Obama with being less supportive of the Jewish State than candidate Obama was in 2008.
Romney shrewdly managed to steer the debate back to the economy and amazingly President Obama testily jumped right down that rabbit hole after him, allowing the Republican to fight on more familiar turf and less advantageous ground for the president.
The Republican presidential nominee’s courtesies to the president concerning the killing of Osama bin Laden drove Donald Trump to furiously tweet his displeasure. Trump opined that his candidate should “stop congratulating Obama for killing Bin Laden. The Navy Seals (sic) killed Bin Laden.”
Trump was right and Romney passed on a golden opportunity to correct the president for stealing thunder that he authorized but did not make.
Which leaves me to wonder whether Romney intentionally assumed a passive posture in the debate so as not to commit any errors in order to protect a lead. Politicians that adopt a zone defense strategy tend to be ahead.
Whether the final president debate moved votes in any direction will not be known until Thursday. My guess is that the third debate itself won’t matter much with the last two confirming what people saw in the first (Nixon-Kennedy '60).
Romney came off as competent, knowledgeable and presidential in all three debates while the president looked like a desperate politician unable to defend his record yet not unwilling to get personal.
After six years of soaring rhetoric, controlled speaking environments, screened audiences, a fourth estate that has acted as his political secret service and a podium flanked by teleprompters, the debates have allowed Americans to peer behind the purple curtain to see that they’ve had a state senator for a president all along.
With the debates concluded and two weeks to go before election day, all that’s left are more advertising, candidate scrambles to purple states, get out the vote operations and the late October/early November surprise the most cynical amongst us assume the White House is cooking up and ready to serve at a politically optimal time.