I think Mitt Romney won the debate, but not by much. He flubbed a few good opportunities to really score decisive blows on the President, but definitely drew more blood. The CNN polling and CBS News polling confirm it. While more thought Barack Obama won the debate, largely because his last performance was so bad, clear majorities outside the margin of error thought Mitt Romney would be best on the economy, jobs, the deficit, etc. That suggests Romney did win, but people viewed Obama’s debate performance as an improvement over the first one. In fact, while other areas of the debate may overshadow this point, Romney deftly dispatched Obama on his economic record. That is the one issue that matters. It got so bad, Obama had to trot out Planned Parenthood and Big Bird.Additionally, if you ever wondered who could be undecided at this point in the election, well now you know. Fear for the Republic. Why the debate commission thought it a good idea to go to Long Island, NY to hear from undecided voters in an area not considered a swing state is really beyond me.Before I go anywhere else, one part of the debate is absolutely going to get overshadowed and I actually think it was one of the most critical exchanges. It showed just how out of touch Barack Obama is. It also explains why voters who thought Obama might have won the debate overwhelming thought Mitt Romney would do better on jobs and the economy.The President tried to claim that the reason gas prices were so low in 2008 was because the economy was so bad. He actually wanted the audience to believe that the economy is going gangbusters now as a reason for $4.00 gasoline — a delusion the undecided voters clearly did not buy. His words — he said that gas prices were so low because of the economy, which clearly means he thinks it is so high now because of the recovery. What recovery? Romney hit him hard on this and the undecided voters reacted favorably to Romney. There is more room for Romney to hit Obama on the airwaves over gas prices.This was an amazing and stunning show of total detachment from the reality of the American economic situation. I was stunned he said that.Beyond that issue, even if we were charitable and declared the debate a tie, this debate spawned a cancer for Barack Obama that is going to do far more post-debate damage than some first imagined as the debate drew to a close. In fact, many pundits left the debate willing to call it a win for Obama if only because he did better than last time. It was as predictable as the sun coming up. But the Libya exchange, in which Mitt Romney did himself no favors, is a cancer for Team Obama to deal with.Candy Crowley should not have tried to referee the Libya answer as she moderated. Herding the cats was a difficult enough task. Interjecting on the Libya story made her part of the story in a way she should not have become. But for all the people heaping aspersions on her (full disclosure: I am a political contributor for CNN and have long thought the world of Candy Crowley even before I had a relationship with CNN), they should be thanking her. It was her interjection to clarify what was and was not said that muddied the water on what the President actually said.The media, which has tried to move past the story as quickly as possible, is now going to have to go back and revisit what actually happened. As last night dragged on in the post debate analysis, the initial cursory “he did call it an act of terror” fact checking turned into “actually, he didn’t and it took him forever to do so” fact checking. It was not pretty. And it was a hell of a thing for Obama to accuse Romney of politicizing a cover up, then hide behind the rhetoric of greeting coffins as they returned home.Within an hour of the debate being over, Candy Crowley herself acknowledged on CNN that “Mitt Romney was right in the main.” CNN and other networks then proceeded to point out all the times Obama Administration officials kept denying terrorism was responsible for what happened. The fact checkers had to explain just how wrong the President was and just how misleading he tried to be last night. This will continue in the lead up to the foreign policy debate.Here’s a more important point: Barack Obama put himself solidly in the center as the man of responsibility. He actually refused to answer the undecided voter’s question about security for the Ambassador and, in dodging, put himself in conflict with the State Department. The magnitude of the lies, half-truths, and redirects continues to add up to a significant malignancy. And we have one more debate, solely on foreign policy, to go. The muddied waters and detailed fact checking will hurt Barack Obama over the long haul. A tie, at best, in last night’s debate will slowly drain away — a fleeting moment in the fury of analysis over what did and did not happen regarding Benghazi.There was another striking moment in the debate that should not be overshadowed by the Libyan issue.An undecided voter who voted for Obama in 2008, asked Barack Obama why he should vote for Barack Obama now. Stunningly, Obama offered no new plans, no new proposals, and no new ideas. The voter clearly said he wasn’t impressed with the past four years, but that’s all Obama had to offer. Then Romney countered. It was a magical moment of fact telling, just hitting the low notes of Barack Obama’s record. Obama clearly wanted to respond, but he could not. There was no time.One last point — Obama seemed very angry last night throughout the debate. “Stern,” one friend called his expressions. Several times, on the stage, Mitt Romney commanded and the President followed. Romney led the President and I think it showed to undecided voters. Romney, at one point, commanded the President shut up and sit down and the President did so like a dog told to sit. It was masterful.Romney, like Ryan, showed weakness on foreign policy. That sets him up for an awkward third debate. But if, unlike last night, Romney doesn’t back down on Libya, we could be in for a command performance. Democrats who hoped for a Reagan 1984 comeback may have liked what they saw, but this debate changed nothing at best. At worse, it creates a cancer for the Obama campaign they’ll have a hard time treating.
At Best a Fleeting Tie for Obama. The Reality is a Cancer on His Campaign