RedState Roundtable: The First Debate

Longtime RedStaters might remember the old Roundtables we used to do (although in fairness, that was long before my time on the Front Page). For a while now, we’ve been trying to restart them. This election gives us a perfect opportunity, so we decided to do a Roundtable on the first debate and where we go from here. This covers our discussions before, during, and after the debate.



Jake: It’s my personal opinion that as long as Romney doesn’t make a fool out of himself, he won’t fall in the polls, but of course, I want more than that. I’d like to see something like Reagan vs Carter, or since I’m a bit of an international political junkie, I’d like a “You had an option sir” moment that played out in Canada in 1984. Those moments don’t come by often, though. I’d be willing to settle for a “You forgot Poland” type of moment. Something to show us Romney has some fight in him.

I don’t think Obama on his own will be too aggressive. Not with the record he has, but the media there to help him along, both during and after, it’s going to be a lot easier for him to look calm, thoughtful, etc. Romney doesn’t have this, so he needs to be on the ball at all times.

I think there’s a lot of merit in this piece by John Sides. The debate itself might not matter too much, but the news coverage of it will.

I’m for Romney to blowout Obama, but I’d settle for a win on points.

Neil Stevens: It’s a tight race. Romney doesn’t have to swing for the fences.  He doesn’t need a “You had an option, sir” or a “There you go again.”  But I wouldn’t mind a “You forgot Poland.”

Dan McLaughlin: My number one hope is that Romney doesn’t go for the capillaries – doesn’t squander the opportunity by mounting weak attacks.  Obama by now is such a huge target-rich environment, and Romney should be loaded for bear with everything all of us have wanted to challenge to his face for 4 years.

Moe Lane: I largely want to see a debate performance where I am not embarrassed by my party’s nominee.  I have good expectations for that.  The new format is going to confuse people, though – particularly those of us who are more used to the debate process.

Aaron Gardner: The way I see the race, Obama is failing to hold on to indies that carried him in 08, Dem enthusiasm is down, Colorado is closer than anyone thought it would be.  This is Romney’s race to win.  This debate will either be a turning point that leads to a shellacking, or it will mark the moment Romney/Ryan died.

Romney did well in the primary debates flanked by 999, Santorum and Gardisil, but how will he do with no one on the stage to jump in front of bullets for him?


I expect to see Romney’s best attempt at a Reagan-esque tone that sounds moderate and reasonable and common sense while still being rooted in conservative center right thought.

I want to see Romney take advantage of the likelihood that Obama will try to attack on social issues.  Romney should be short and direct with this, don’t let yourself get bogged down in the mire with Obama, appeal to the reasonable and ask why the government doesn’t trust women to take care of themselves, why does Obama treat them as victims.

Overall, I think Romney will win this one and possibly make the emperor bleed in front of the public.

Aaron: My assessment of the first half hour is that Romney is landing good hits and he immediately connected with the crowd and the home audience by stealing Obama’s anniversary thunder.

Solid first half hour for Romney and Obama has looked off.

Jake: Obama talks a lot about Medicare, but he doesn’t mention how he gutted it of $717 billion for Obamacare.

Jake: As soon as I say that, Romney hits the $717 billion gutting. Good for him. He is definitely sounding on the ball thus far in.

Repair_Man_Jack: I’ll have to admit it.  The early stage of the GOP Primary prepared Mitt for debating Obama.  Debating Newt made him turn up his game.

Jake: I agree, RMJ. When you are in an actually contested primary and have to work for votes, it toughens a candidate up, especially if you have to debate a guy like Gingrich. Mitt has emerged more refined in debates because of that, I think.

Jake: Romney is doing a good job going after Obama on Obamacare. He’s using statistics from the CBO and McKinsey and Company. The more you hit Obama with this sort of stuff, the weaker he gets. Can’t fight the numbers.

RMJ: Obama has a tenuous and troubled relationship with actual data of any variety.

Daniel Horowitz: I thought Romney was doing great until the predictable Romneycare moment.  But instead of Obama going for the jugular, he decided to defend the death panels and offer Romney not just an out but another launching point.

Aaron: I actually think he handled the Obama/Romneycare question very well.  It wasn’t a base answer, but it reached to the middle and made a point of Obama’s partisanship.

That stuff sells even if it isn’t what we are looking for.  At least we can take refuge in Mitt not violating federalist principles with his plan.


Jake: Romney needs to talk more about this “trickle-down government” approach that’s restricting our freedoms, especially contrasted to the “trickle-down economics” that the Left so loves to focus on.

Jake: From what I’ve seen and heard, Romney is doing an excellent job. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a small jump in support, especially from independents. He just needs to keep up these kinds of performances in the next two debates, and he should have a good chance of edging ahead, although, as I said in my introduction, how the media spins all of this could make a difference. We must be willing to stay alert and be ready to push back. Some help from the Romney-Ryan campaign would help, too, of course.

Neil: The lesson in the primaries was that as much as people badly wanted to push the narrative of the Social Media Election, the debates were key. And Romney held his own in them.

Debates matter.  Swing voters, especially the self-described independents who pride themselves on their inability to follow the issues and form coherent opinions on the issues facing our nation, they get all worked up about this stuff.

We may think they shouldn’t matter. We may think they’re stupid and not really informative. We may be right on all of that.  But the thing about a Republic is that you can’t impose what you think is important on the voters. They decide for themselves.

Moe: This was a bloodbath.  This was a frankly unexpected bloodbath that the refs should have stopped about halfway in.

Neil: After Fred, and McCain, and Perry, it’s nice to have been on the WINNING side of a debate. It’s been a while.

Jake: So, what can we expect from the next debate, guys?

Moe: The Democrats going to go in, guns blazing, for the next Presidential one.  Obama HAS to take Romney seriously, now – and he has to go all-in on foreign policy.  My major worry is that Thursday’s performance will puncture Obama’s smug: this is the first freaking time he’s ever been smacked in the face with a lead pipe, and it shows.

Aaron: I think Mitt did better than he had to and I expect an actual bump in the polls despite the D over samples.

Mitt’s points on the partisanship of Obamacare, his mention of school choice, his answer on role of government and first principles, and his over all control of the cage will be well taken.

The fact is, Mitt took the sails out of Obama early by connecting with the crowd and audience immediately and stealing the thunder of Obama on his own anniversary.


Obama look disinterested in debating, I attribute this attitude to his narcissistic behaviors.  He doesn’t believe he has anything to prove and Romney made it apparent hid did.

Overall, Romney’s tone was more appealing to moderates without being offensive to the base.  He was at his most Reagan-esque in this debate and Obama was flat and outdated, left repeating the themes of 08 with new goals while the old goals still go on unachieved.

I would say this was a solid win for Romney on multiple levels. Indies will respond well, as will Denver suburbanites.

JakeI think Matt Lewis has a nice write-up of the debate over at the Daily Caller.

And, Moe, I don’t think Obama’s too good at self-analysis. He’ll be better next time, but that smug won’t be going away.

I wasn’t able to watch the full debate, but from what I did see and from what I’ve gathered, Romney was able to connect with the audience, stay smart, and didn’t stumble or look stumped. That is exactly how he needs to look in the next two debates.

I don’t think the media will be so passive, next time, though.

The next debate is the town hall style debate. Romney’s going to need to use all the people skills he displayed in this debate at Hofstra.

Romney is someone who always seems prepared, though, so I doubt even the worst case scenario we could reasonably expect is a total disaster. Like Matt Lewis said, Obama seems to draw his energy from the crowd. When they’re silent like they were last Thursday, it’s hard to feed off it. When they’re participants like next week, it’s a different story. As long as Romney holds his own, he should be fine.

By the way, Romney > McCain, as a candidate in general and as a debater.

RMJ: Romney needs to prepare an over-arching theme and then fit the responses to at least 80% of the questions to that theme.  He has to stay likeable, stay sharp.  Treat it like a job interview or a sales call.  Take charge nicely and he will remain in command.

Aaron: Clearly this debate made its mark. Look at this tweet from Mark Knoller:

Poll shows 56% of uncommitted voters say their opinion of Romney has changed for the better. 13% say that about the President.

Dan: This was a curbstomping by Romney, who debated like a boss.  Even Newt never told the moderator he was firing him.

The debate was on Obama’s turf, or what’s supposed to be his turf: wonky, both sides trying to sound bipartisan and technocratic.  Which come to think of it is Romney’s turf too, just not traditional ground for conservatives.  Romney played on that turf and destroyed the tired, canned-sounding president.


Romney left a ton of ammunition unused, and in a number of ways he triangulated towards the middle in ways that will set conservatives’ teeth on edge – there was an unusual amount of love for Massachusetts.  But a win’s a win.  And Obama conceded some important ground too: who expected to hear both candidates agreeing that the corporate tax should be cut?

This was maybe the wonkiest debate ever – little or nothing on social issues, few references to soaring principles.  The candidates got into the weeds of Dodd-Frank, premium support, revenue scoring, and the tax and spending subsidies for energy companies.  And Romney just knew his stuff better than Obama did.

Maybe The View wasn’t such great debate prep after all.

Moe: Bottom line: Romney over-performed expectations, and Obama performed as well as you could expect, really.  A lot of media folks don’t want to admit that this was about par for the course of a man who is almost never challenged in any significant way.Romney can still lose, but it got harder for him to lose the election after Thursday’s debate.

Dan: Here’s another thought: Romney won the debate by finally, maybe for the first time in the six years he’s been on the national stage, being himself.  He didn’t try to be empathetic, which he’s not.  He didn’t try to be funny, which he’s not.  He didn’t play the Severe Conservative, which he’s not.  He was a technocratic moderate Republican – and it worked because it was genuine.

Steve Maley (Vladimir): Overall, the best debate I’ve seen, and I credit Jim Lehrer for that. The moderator was not the focus. It was truly an exchange of ideas between the two candidates. Romney exposed several of Obama’s most glaring weaknesses as President. Romney knows what it reach across the aisle. Obama mocked him: “It’s not enough to just sit down with the other side.” No joke, this from the man who came into office saying “I won!” In Obama’s mind, there’s no bipartisanship, and it’s those sorry S.O.B.s who are to blame.

Obama thinks he can dig our economy out of this hole by digging faster. Romney knows the only hope at this point is growing the economy. Step 1 is energy: increase access and get out the way. These are “drill-bit ready” jobs; not only will we grow the economy, the environment will benefit the more natural gas we use. I predict that prices will come down, too. Romney exposed the green energy focus for the sham that it is. Green energy subsidies of $90 billion amount to over 50 years of oil and gas tax benefits (benefits that are not unique to the industry, no matter what Obama thinks).


My favorite moment may have been when Romney said that as the father of five sons, he’d learned that ideas don’t become facts by mere repetition. The comparison to his sons was apt, because Romney took Obama to school for the entire debate.

Dan: Lehrer seemed a little weak and confused at the start, but I agree that his passive approach and open-ended questions lent itself to a good debate where the candidates got to mix it up directly and not spend the whole night responding to what the moderator wanted to talk about.  Major contrast to David Gregory’s widely-panned moderation of the Brown-Warren debate the other night.

Jake: Mitt Romney ate Obama’s lunch and came back for seconds.

Aaron: I also want to add that Mitt’s tone was perfect throughout the night. As Steve mentioned, the bipartisan point is a great contrast and a great way to pull the middle to your side. The fact that he kept his defense of Romneycare well within the boundaries of a traditional federalist argument at the same time can only play well on the whole. There will be those who think Romney should have renounced his namesake, but I don’t think this would have been the time or place to open yourself up to a charge of flip flopping on your signature legislation.

I am hearing a lot of good press coming out of the Colorado markets and the Denver media outlets.

One other advantage Mitt will have going forward is the connection he established with the crowd and the home viewers early in the debate.  I think the ability to out captivate Obama on a national stage is an ability most of us were wondering whether Mitt had. Thursday night, any doubts were answered.  Going into the town hall style of debate we can be somewhat assured Romney will have a more open minded audience asking the questions and Romney will have the ability to connect with his answers.

The reports of Romney’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Francis Cianfrocca: My reading is that Thursday night was America’s very first chance to see Romney as he is, unfiltered. (Only political junkies paid attention to the primaries; the general campaign has been focused on swing states; and the RNC was scripted down to the word.)

And that matters because until now, the media and the Democrats have successfully implanted the idea that Romney is a scary outsider who obeys a strange religion and wants everyone who isn’t rich to lose her job and her healthcare. People I’ve spoken to have literally said they’re FRIGHTENED of Romney.


What Romney did Thursday was to show people that he’s not only not frightening, but that his religion, his business background, and his experiences as governor of a blue state are actually relatable to ordinary people. He made himself electable. That also was the challenge that Reagan faced, and met, in the fall of 1980.

Jake: Thank you guys for participating in this roundtable. I think it’s been a success, and I hope to do one soon. Romney helped himself out a lot with this debate. I must admit that I am surprised at how he carried himself Thursday night. He came off as a strong and knowledgeable leader, and Obama looked lost and out of his element. It’s about as good of a performance as we could have asked for, and I hope the next two Presidential debates play out the same way (or even close). I’m sure it won’t be as easy next time, but if Romney comes off as he did tonight, we should be in good shape.



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