Thursday, October 04, 2012

Romney's Finest Hour

When James Carville tells a Democratic presidential candidate in the post debate analysis that he "didn't bring his A game," it's bad. In fact, almost all the Obama apologists were left defenseless after last night's debate in which Romney dominated Obama at every turn.

I say "almost all" because there were still a few hardy souls in Obama's campaign who held forth manfully in the spin room after the debate. One of them was David Axelrod, who did his best to answer Candy Crowley's post-debate question, "David, what happened?"

David Gergen declared, "This is now a horse race." Wolf Blitzer was left without much to say. Even Rachel Maddow, was relatively subdued. Rachel Maddow. Subdued. I'm going to cherish the moment.

Folks, these are the people Obama depends on to spin these things so that Obama looks good. They were clearly embarrassed. I think this debate was the most dominating performance by any candidate in a modern presidential debate. Yes, Reagan's "youth and inexperience" remark won him a clear cut victory over Walter Mondale in 1984, but it was just one line. The rest of that debate was fairly pedestrian. What sets Romney's win over Obama apart was that he dominated his opponent over almost the entire debate.

There wasn't just one line that distinguished Romney, but multiple lines--and they kept coming.
  • "Mr. President, you're entitled to your own plane and your own house, but not your own facts..."
  • "Sorry Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS, I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird, I  actually like you too, but I'm not going to keep spending money on things to China to pay for it. That's number one."
  • "I will not reduce the share paid by high income individuals. I know that you and your running mate keep on saying that, and I know it's a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it's just not the case. Look, I've got five boys. I'm used to people saying something that's not always true, but just keep on repeating it, but ultimately hoping I'll believe it."
  • You say that you get a deduction for taking a plant overseas? I've been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you're talking about."
  • "I don't want to go down the path of Spain. I want to put more Americans to work."
  • "It's frankly not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing burdens will be passed on to the next generation and paying interest and principal all their lives."
And so on and so forth for an hour and a half.

Obama had a few memorable lines, but unfortunately one of them was, "You know, four years ago, I said that I'm not a perfect man, and I wouldn't be a perfect president, and that's probably a promise Governor Romney probably thinks I've kept." To borrow a line from Winston Churchill, Obama is a modest man with much to be modest about.

From the very beginning Romney was on his game. There were several things he did which set him apart in this debate:

  • He used personal stories. Obama only got personal only once, and that was when he invoked his grandmother. That was it. The rest was wonkishness. Obama needs to show his human side.
  • He said things clearly, simply, and memorably. Romney has always been efficient in this presentations. But last night he was ruthlessly efficient. I wondered if it was just me, but as I listened to the debate, I didn't have to expend much energy to hear what Romney was saying, but I had to focus very carefully to understand Obama's points. This was not good for the President.
  • He was aggressive. Romney seemed like the master disciplining his student. And Obama just stood there and nodded! Obama returned fire a few times but, but he seemed overwhelmed by the amount of fire he was taking from Romney.
  • He was informed. Whether his facts were correct is for the fact-checkers, but Romney repeatedly threw out simple statistics, and point by point statements--with thankfully only three to five points.
  • He was presidential. And this is surprising. Few people can be as aggressive as Romney without looking mean. He didn't look mean. He just looked authoritative.

He even managed to use the opportunity to congratulate Obama on his anniversary to humanize himself and get a good-natured laugh.

A CBS post-debate poll of uncommitted voters had Romney winning 46% to 22%. That's over 2-to-1. CNN's poll of uncommitted, registered voters gave it to Romney 67% to 25%.

That's arithmetic.

As one commentator said, this debate was not about Barack Obama; it was about Mitt Romney. And all he had to do was look like he was on the same level as the President. That's the one advantage the challenger has. But Romney did much more than that. He won the debate decisively, and, perhaps more importantly, he won the post-debate analysis. Even Obama's allies were left admitting he had been whooped.

This will result in new momentum for what has been a lackluster campaign. It will re-energize his campaign workers. And it will open up pocketbooks.


Lee said...

I'm thinking Obama fell victim to the Taranto Principle (after James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal), which says "the liberal media so coddles liberal politicians that they have no idea how to cope outside that liberal media bubble."

Perhaps Obama has never been put to that kind of test before. He might have thought he was going up against another McCain.

If I were the President, I'd fire John Kerry as my debate coach and beg Mr. Clinton to step in.

Martin Cothran said...


I think you're right about this. But I think having to depend on Clinton again to bail him out would be the ultimate humiliation.

I have been trying to think of the causes for this, and I think, if your roll back the tape, you find simply that Romney is a very, very good debater--and a very practiced one thanks to his experience in the many Republican debates this year that gave taught him how to be aggressive, but cordial.

Obama, on the other hand, not only hasn't debated in four years, but is used to adoring crowds. Romney is used to the world of Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting, while Obama knows little other than Benny and the Jets.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

I'm not sure Obama anticipated the return of Mitt Romney's moderate persona either. Part of the Obama strategy has been to go along with the image Romney had to adopt to win the primary, and in the debate, Romney made a remarkable move back to the moderate governor of a liberal state. (This shift wasn't instantaneous; Romney had previously gone back on things like repealing Obamacare.)

Regardless of whether the move will work politically, the important thing is that Romney has largely sloughed off the pseudo-libertarianism that was threatening to overtake the party. That in itself is a (moral) achievement.

Lee said...

If Romney refuses to repeal ObamaCare, he loses my vote, for one. I guess I don't see where the moral achievement was moral.