Well, debate number two is in the books and thus we can all get back to dissecting the performance of both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
Ever since the first debate concluded, Romney has completely erased the assumption that Barack Obama was the clear frontrunner for re-election and clearly had the momentum going into tonight’s debate even after the Paul Ryan – Joe Biden quarrel that masqueraded as a debate.
Tonight’s debate, moderated by CNN anchor Candy Crowley, was certainly full of fireworks and they were ignited early as the conversation shifted from education to jobs and taxes, arguably the two most contentious topic in this election cycle. This is where Romney had his first real slip-ups, first in slipping into his stump speech (stating numbers of job losses) to the question “What will you do to bring jobs back?” before briefly and vaguely citing his “5-point plan” as a path to recovery.
Then the President finally listened to the chorus being sung by his base and blasted the Romney 5-point plan as “a one-point plan” before launching into a tirade about Bain Capital.
As Obama continued to levy attacks on Romney, Crowley got the topic shifted to drilling, energy and oil. Romney jumped on Obama for his claim that “drilling has gone down 14% on federal land”, a claim that has been deemed as “half-true” by PolitiFact (who’ve been under fire for the better portion of the year). Obama and Romney continued to spar as the question shifted from gas prices to the drilling question.
It was an odd full-circle moment as who would’ve ever thought, especially in a post-Drill, Baby, Drill world, that a Democrat would be touting drilling and the Republican candidate would say it’s gone down? Regardless, I think even if it only registered as “half-true”, Romney might’ve won the perception battle in that area. Romney’s bread and butter might be business, in his eyes that is, but he did acceptably on energy to the flamethrowers.
NOTE: Climate Change was not mentioned by either candidate.
Romney, though appeared to have issues with the rules of the debate in which it was explicitly stated that candidates couldn’t ask each other direct questions. Romney continuously interrupted Crowley as he groveled for more time to push back against the President, a plea that was rebuffed constantly throughout the debate.
While in the first debate we got to see the side of Mitt Romney that others might find appealing. In the Lehrer debate, sans the slip-up regarding “loving Big Bird”, Romney was selling himself. Romney, the businessman, was out in full effect and it worked perfectly in his favor. He may not have looked likable but he looked like he had answers while looking poised under pressure. President Obama, on the other hand, seemed passive and flustered under the blitz led by Romney.
But how the roles reversed. Romney, instead of attacking Obama, was clearly distraught over Candy Crowley and Obama clearly sensed that as he waited in the wings to answer. The million dollar smile Obama employed spoke for itself that night.
The debate continued to progress over the topic of tax cuts and tax raises. Obama continued to use a variety of verbal jabs and uppercuts to hammer Romney with the line:
“We haven’t heard from the Governor any specifics beyond Big Bird and eliminating Planned Parenthood”
Ouch. Romney clearly was still reeling over the spat over the debate rules to respond and launched into a long-winded spiel on his career in business and his role in 2002 Winter Olympics. Again Romney was losing the perception battle, even if he didn’t say the fluff he did, it looked like Romney was just battered all night.
Then Romney was hit with a question about women’s pay. Romney gave a bizarre answer about “binders of women” and also saying that his goal as Commander-in-Chief is to create an economy that wants to hire women so badly! Uh…what? First off, I thought businesses created economy, not governments and second….what?
Barack Obama then proceeded to say that answers like Romney were not what women needed and answered the question perfectly by espousing Lilly Ledbetter. Romney went from looking weak, to uncaring to then just plain….WHAT?
The debate would then go to immigration in which Mitt Romney proudly showed that the only thing he is pro-choice on, for the minute, is deportation. Romney then denied the President’s charges that he was a supporter of Arizona’s entire SB1070 bill (which was immediately batted down at the line of scrimmage by the President) and again appeared to have lost that debate; though a bit more narrowly than the topics beforehand.
Then the boomstick dropped. Mitt Romney had his moment. But for the worse. In a moment that rivaled the Gore sigh, the Nixon gulp and everything James Stockdale ever said; Mitt Romney may have just lost himself the election.
When discussing the attack on the Libyan embassy and the assassination of Ambassador Stevens, Romney asked President Obama if he called the attack an “act of terror” and not a spontaneous act. President Obama nodded fervently and Romney appeared to have struck gold. Romney wanted Obama to make that declaration so he could say “NO YOU DIDN’T”….problem was….he did say it and it wasn’t the fact that Romney said a lie but he told a lie so blatant that Candy Crowley herself said Obama did say it was an act of terror. Romney stammered his way through the Libya answer and the debate was effectively over even if there were topics left unsaid.
But the debate would end with Obama hammering Romney over his infamous “47%” comment and if that didn’t sum up the night, nothing did.
Now the most important things we have to take in debates is the battle of perception. Now, Barack Obama did not make himself more likable tonight at all. That is key. When Barack Obama is inspirational and uplifting, he is at his absolute best and no one can deny that. However, when he’s on the attack, it’s hard to thread the needle between aggressive and hostile. Barack Obama did not offer the most substance a candidate could offer in a debate, but he did the right thing and made sure Mitt Romney was caught up in feuds with the moderator and with the words Romney has said in the past.
Now is there a saving grace for Romney? Certainly the Libya comment will get a lot of attention for the next week, but will it be a death knell? In an election that hasn’t been completely predictable, we have a lot of room for things to change. There’s not going to be another job report before the election but all there is left for Romney is another debate.
But what will we see? What can Romney do? He’s already shown his hand and if he maintains, he’s going to be in a tricky position. Meanwhile, President Obama has the advantages of an incumbent and can pretty much shoot for par and still win convincingly.
We shall see.