WHY OBAMA CHOKED IN THE FIRST DEBATE
When I saw the debate, I was quite thrilled with how well Romney was doing. Live-blogging it on Redstate, I found myself writing “home run” and “Romney nails it” several times, and noting Romney’s machine-gun rapid-fire of facts and figures. I marked four of the debate questions “ADVANTAGE ROMNEY”, where he clearly dominated the discussion or had a clearly better response. I was so thrilled with how Romney out-performed that I didn’t really think about how poorly Obama was doing until later.
One factor may have been that I saw it on PBS, and they didnt have the split-screen other stations did, a split-screen that had Obama peeved, looking down, smirking or with some sour expression, and never looking at Romney, whereas Romney was alert, good-natured, and in a more agreeable frame. But that style just is the cover on the substance of what happened. On reflection, this debate was a serious, substantive blow to Obama at a strategic level, and that may be why the left went absolutely bonkers.
Obama believed that the strawman of Mitt that the MSM had created was real, or at least expected to be able to make his strawman attacks without rebuttal. Obama expected a fictional character to appear at the debate. When the real Mitt Romney appeared, Obama was totally confused. Obama claimed Romney was for the $5 trillion tax cut. Romney rebutted. Not just gainsaying, but walking through how cutting tax rates and closing deductions would work, clarifying how he was NOT going to reduce the share paid by the top 1%. Obama tried the ‘middle class tax hike’ dodge. Didnt work. Obama tried the ‘they are against regulation and want to relive the crisis’. Romney rebutted. Obama had a left hook, and Romney just persistently returned and rebutted.
The same with the ‘middle class tax increase’ lie. Obama lobbed it, Romney returned it, in perhaps the best way possible. I frankly wanted Romney to be LESS polite than he was “may I call it Obamacare?” calling assertions “not factual” rather than “lies” etc. and going out of his way to say “I agree with …”. But the effect of rebutting was devastating to Obama.
Finally in the debate Obama’s lies caught up with him. Obama can lie about Romney when he’s not around, but to his face? Romney called Obama out on Obama’s lies and schooled him on it. This left Obama unprepared and unarmed.
What else did Obama have, if not the 1-2 punch of “things are going well enough and we are making progress” and “Romney is a dangerous plutocrat”? Obama dared not ‘rebut’ Romney’s factually correct litany of lousy economic data – the 23 million unemployed or underemployed, the drop in household income, the double digit minority unemployment rate, etc. These are real, and it would be callous and out-of-touch to deny them.
Romney didn’t just disarm Obama’s key points, he built up, through his specificity, both a powerful argument for his candidacy and a rebuttal to the bogus Obama claim that Romney wasn’t specific enough. Obama tried that line in the debate, but it was feeble and hollow coming from a vague President up against Bullet-point-man with the Five Point Plan. Now we ALL know of Romney’s 5 point plan, the 5 reasons he will repeal Obamacare, what he wants fixed in Dodd-Frank, and ten times the details on Romney’s tax reform than we got on Obamacare during the 2008 campaign. Romney gave a lesson in Massachusetts bipartisanship so strong that Obama’s best retort was about them teaching that on Capitol Hill; huh, you mean Leader Obama can do that? Above his pay grade? Romney gave good reasons *why* Obama’s insistence on niggling details of which specific tax provisions might stay or go is a complete Red Herring. (Let’s be clear what Team Obama really wants: they have been egging their media partners on the hunt for ‘specifics’ so they can cut 30 second attack ads to say “Romney wants to raise your taxes by taking away X” neglecting the fact that such loss of deductions would be to pay down a rate reduction making the tax reform a wash for most taxpayers.)
“This isn’t the real Mitt Romney”, Obama would say later. “The real Mitt Romney wants to raise taxes and give it all to the top 1%. I didn’t debate the real Mitt Romney.” It’s an odd projection of an upside-down President. Obama is reduced to running against the strawman that only exists in 30 second attack ads. He’s going around promoting a version of Mitt that never existed, a caricature. Since the REAL Romney whipped him in the debate, Obama returns to the cocoon of running against his own Myth Romney.
Obama must have sensed during the debate itself that the caricature wasn’t playing by his rules, and the debate was spinning out of his control. Perhaps it was when Romney mentioned his own sons or when Romney said “you’re not entitled to your own facts”. Romney was crisp, clear, cogent, on target. Obama had his strawman arguments and once they were blown apart by Romney’s logic, he just ran in circles repeating the kind of pap that only liberals can adore. He was out of ammo, just like Admiral Stockdale.
Hence the peevishness. And hence the forgettable performance in the last 30 or more minutes. I was telling myself “wow, this Obama guy is boring, he’s just saying nothing” especially when he was talking bout Abe Lincoln, in the philosophy of government question; not something Obama never thought about. Why did he get vague and mushy? Deep down Obama is an out and out leftist but he just COULDNT go full Redistributionist and give America the speech he gave at Hampton Roads, he couldn’t make the mistake of repeating the ‘you didnt build it’ sentiment, or talk like he was chilling with the New Black Panther Party in Chicago. So he was left with repeating forgettable vacuous pap and the strawman “Republicans hate education” – which Romney *again* batted away like a slow-pitch. And used it as an opening to Hit It Out Of The Park.
Independents in focus groups pointed to that answer – where Romney spoke of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence to inform our understanding of the role of Government – as one where Romney did particularly well. Romney did well because he articulated conservative and Constitutional principles in a cogent common-sense way.
I was so focussed on how well Romney was doing, I hadn’t considered how poorly Obama was doing – until the closing. Egads, he was looking down. Why? Obama was tied in knots. Obama’s punches didn’t land anymore, and he was like a punch-drunk fighter, swinging punches in the wind to no effect. Obama talked more than Romney, but said less in 53% of the time than Romney did in 47% of it, and what he did say was not useful to him or to the viewers.
Obama couldn’t tell more lies about Romney and couldn’t tell the truth about himself. That is why Obama choked. Obama off-teleprompter can be ‘interesting’ when he’s not holding back. He held back.
That is why this debate is a fundamental and strategic loss for Obama and his campaign. The debate didn’t just show up the President on a bad day. IT SHOWED UP OBAMA AS RUNNING A DISHONEST AND FLAWED CAMPAIGN, one based on lies that Romney exposed and debunked. One based on a lack of a real record to run on, and a further lack of a serious future agenda that is compelling beyond his hardcore base. The Obama campaign cannot really back down from their lies about Romney without in effect throwing away $100 million in attacks, so they will just bully on through with more attacks (“War on Women”, “Middle Class tax hike”, “ending Medicare” etc.) But if they do, they embarrass themselves more in the debates as their lies wear thin. Obama has nowhere left to go; he will go down ugly.