Politico kicks off this morning’s post-debate recap:
As with any performance, a debate score is in the eye of the beholder. At least on stylistic grounds, however, a clear consensus of early reviews – most notably from liberal commentators dismayed by Barack Obama’s lackluster outing – judged Romney as having the superior evening, with a spirited personal demeanor, crisply delivered lines, and a bullet-pointed policy message that kept its focus on jobs while parrying many of the president’s attacks…
Romney was helped by a surprisingly drowsy and dull-edged performance by Obama. The president made no major blunders, and he was consistent in his argument that Romney’s fiscal proposals are unrealistic and irresponsible, forcing a choice between huge deficits or big tax increases on the middle class. But he seemed sedate in demeanor, his words full of pauses and even at times nervous stammers, and he sometimes gave off an air of weariness or impatience toward the proceeding.
Obama can take some comfort in history. George W. Bush was widely judged to have clearly lost the first debate against John Kerry in 2004, a fact that didn’t change the arc of the race. And, as Obama allies noted Wednesday, most voters – unlike many reporters and commentators – do not judge debates principally as theater criticism but more on which policy arguments make sense to them. [Pols emphasis]
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza on Barack Obama’s lackluster performance:
The incumbent just seemed something short of engaged in tonight’s proceedings. Like his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama’s debate performance seemed purposely restrained – striving for a workmanlike competence but achieving something well short of that. Obama’s facial expressions seemed to alternate between grimly looking down at his podium and smirking when Romney said something with which he disagreed.
Our live-blogger’s first impressions notwithstanding, it’s the consensus view among most pundits–and polling conducted immediately after–that GOP challenger Mitt Romney won last night’s debate. Whether or not you think Romney or Obama won last night is a function of partisanship, but also nonpartisan judgments on style and persuasiveness–then and only then, based on the commentary we’re seeing today, are we to judge them based on the facts.
The facts are where this becomes a much less auspicious outing for Romney, but that takes time to sink in with the voting public. The fact-checking that has already begun doesn’t look favorably on Romney’s (latest) views as expressed in last night’s debate, and as we’ve said, if the final impression is of a slick boardroom operator who lies, it’s not going to help Romney in the end.
But without question, Romney looked polished and sounded confident as he resurrected “death panels,” denied the higher taxes his fiscal plans would impose on the middle class, and made claims about “cutting Medicare by $716 billion” that have been debunked over and over again. And this is the key point: the pundits declaring this debate a win for Mitt Romney know all of this. To many pundit class observers, presentation simply matters more than the underlying facts.
As for Obama, most news reports acknowledge that he made “no major mistakes,” and delivered his points with a more digestible cadence–a marked contrast to Romney, who seemed determined to fit as many words into his allotted time as he could. Fact-checkers have noted a few misstatements from Obama, but nothing on the scale of Romney invoking death panels.
But compared to Romney’s fierce energy, Obama looked tired and unprepared. He almost seemed presumptuous that everyone would understand the complexities of being President and fill in the blanks in his halting delivery with the appropriate gravitas, but that didn’t happen.
And while Obama made some good (if often bookish) points, some of the most devastating arguments available against Romney, in particular the recently-exposed video of Romney writing off 47% of Americans as people who “believe they are victims,” were entirely absent from last night’s debate. To the extent that this debate matters in the long arc of the campaign, that decision may well be remembered as a major strategic error.
Bottom line: within Obama’s scholarly hesitation and presumption, as well as Romney’s factless vigor and slick delivery rewarded yet again, hard truths of our politics today are revealed.