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Mitt Romney hammers Barack Obama in the first presidential debate - Spectator Blogs

4 October 2012

4:00 AM

4 October 2012

4:00 AM

Everyone says that the debates don’t change the dynamics of a presidential race very often. President Barack Obama better hope that remains the case this year. Last night’s debate wasn’t even close. Mitt Romney thumped Obama in Denver. It was, as they say, an old-fashioned ass-kicking. Any Democrat who pretends otherwise is either deluding themselves or trying to kid you.

Will it shift the dynamics of the election? Perhaps not. The best Obama’s supporters could say last night is that the President avoided the kind of blunder that might hand Romney an obvious advantage. Maybe so but that kind of defensive mindset seemed somehow to have seeped into Obama last night. He seemed sluggish, even lethargic, hesitant, distracted and oddly unable to land any heavy punches on Romney. Much of the time he was pictured on the split-screen with his head down. Doubtless he was scribbling notes but it had the effect of making him look weary and disheartened. Defeated or despondent, even.

Obama’s answers were so bad that even when tossed a softball such as “What’s your view of the role the federal government can play?” he stumbled on his answer and failed to give any kind of credible – far less inspiring – call to federal arms. With the possible exception of a highly technical exchange on Medicare I’m not sure he won a single round.

Romney by contrast was back to his best. The 27 debates he endured against his Republican challengers in the spring proved good preparation for this contest. He was consistently sharper and quicker to the punch than Obama and much, perhaps even most, of the time his blows were heavier too. Hell, he even managed to come close to being funny from time to time. This was as likeable as Mitt can get.

A trivial observation that nevertheless set the tone: Obama told us that the debate was happening on his wedding anniversary. Somehow he contrived to flub this and Romney, responding to this news, managed to be funnier and more gracious about the Obamas anniversary than the president was himself.

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Not once did Obama really manage to discombobulate a challenger who, frankly, looked leaner, fitter and hungrier for the fight. Even when given obvious opportunities to counter-attack – on Paul Ryan’s budget or on entitlements for instance – Obama pulled his punches. Heck, he never once mentioned the magic number: 47%. And when he complained about tax “loopholes” for oil companies and corporate jets he rather invited the response: well, you’ve been president for four years so couldn’t you have done something about that?

But if you play not to lose you often end up losing. That was Obama’s problem this evening. Now it may not matter in grand electoral terms but Democrats have cause to be appalled by Obama’s performance while Republicans will leave Denver believing, at least for a day or two but perhaps for longer than that, they’re right back in this and that Mitt has a little bit more than just a puncher’s chance.

It wasn’t that Romney was super-persuasive but he consistently had a better range of facts, figures and examples to illustrate his points than Obama had to put flesh on his. If this was a debate between a management consultant and a law professor then the former proved better equipped for the task at hand. Obama had 10% more speaking time but said (it seemed) 30% less than Romney.

There was an unusual amount of substance mixed in with all the usual nonsense. That’s fine.  On some of it – on Dodd-Frank for example – Romney made a convincing case. Other parts of his presentation were less persuasive. Romney said he wouldn’t cut the “share” of taxes paid by the wealthy. Perhaps not but his budget plan suggests he actually will. He placed great faith in magic tax-cutting beans too and denied he’d cut any tax that increased the deficit. Even so, it was notable how Romney tacked to the centre in this debate. This was reasonable Romney and a Mitt who could understand your disappointment and even almost feel your pain.

Well, good people can agree to disagree on the truth of that. But as any old debater will let you know you can get away with any old twaddle so long as it ain’t challenged by your opponent. And Obama didn’t challenge Romney very much, very often or very effectively. No wonder Romney dominated the debate.

I’m not sure there were any true stand-out moments. There was certainly nothing that will be added to the (pretty short!) list of classic presidential debate moments. Nevertheless, Romney was poised, sharp and seemed to want to be president. Obama was passive and sluggish and seemed almost bored of the job.

That’s how it seemed in pure debating terms anyway. The politics of it are a different matter. But if you saw a convincing debating case for four more years then you’re a better, more acute man than me Gunga Din.

Even so, one last thing: in 2004 John Kerry won a clear and convincing victory against George W Bush in their first debate. And we know how that ended.

 

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Show comments
  • Mark Tottenham

    Obama had three problems:

    a) He hadn’t had enough sleep.
    b) He forgot his vision for America. Where were the references to the founding fathers, and the unity of all Americans that characterised his pre-2008 speeches? Mitt stole his clothes in this regard.
    c) He hadn’t analysed Romney’s previous positions. For every time Romney sounded reasonable, Obama should have been able to quote a previous position that was inconsistent with his current one. His attack should be that Romney is a used car salesman who will say anything to anybody to get a sale. And America is not a used car.

  • Baron

    you can go on, it changes nothing, not that it matters, but Romney will get in by a massive margin, have patience, you’ll see.

  • Laura Dalton

    Why are people judged by waffly words and not deeds?

  • Augustus

    ” in 2004 John Kerry won a clear and convincing victory against George W Bush in their first debate. And we know how that ended.”
    Obama carried Ohio in 2008 with roughly the same number of votes Kerry had in 2004 meaning; had the Republican turn out been what it was in 2004, McCain would have won Ohio. This is the major point the pollsters are missing: In addition to oversampling Dems, they are probably underestimating what the Republican turn out is going to be. In 2008 many millions of Republicans (those who wanted a candidate to share their political and moral values and priorities, i.e. evangelicals) sat out the election. If they and other conservatives turn out in large numbers, there will be a huge shift in the electorate from 2008. This election will boil down to turn out which is why they are skewing the polls as much as they are doing and are being so negative against Romney, while not bringing up negatives on Obama, in order to discourage people from turning out to vote against Obama. But election day will reveal just how successful that caper has been.

  • edlancey

    He never mentioned the magic number “47%” because, in spite of themselves, everyone knows it is actually true.

  • Justin

    BTW, don’t think that Democrats will let the 47% lie. They’ll
    plant that question in the Town Hall debate. The audience there will be
    handpicked Obamabots .

    • Augustus

      “BTW, don’t think that Democrats will let the 47% lie.”
      Naturally. Because actually daring to say what Mr. Romney said flies right in the face of the mindset of the Democratic Party circa 2012. Having spent decades building up a coalition of entitled, enforced-dependency victimoids, moochers, looters, free-riders, the chronically offended and the ‘plants are people, too’ moon bats, the elites of the Democratic Party have no choice but to attack sentiments like Mr. Romney expressed as hard as they can. To do otherwise threatens the entire structure of self-righteous Statism they’ve created to support their power base. This need to protect their power and position largely explains just why Romney’s comments have provoked such a hue and cry. It’s not because he was so terribly wrong in his statements. It’s that he was so terribly right.

  • Justin

    Obama
    looked really defeated as if he was just about to resign. On the next debate on
    foreign policy Obama is even weaker. All Romney has to do is point out the long
    list of failures, multiple Obama apologies to Muslims and Beghazigate (cover up
    of the murder of US ambassador), there are just so many failures, Romney will
    be spoiled for choice.

  • Baron

    it frankly matters not a jolt who wins, the debate was not unakin to the Captain, the First Mate on the Titanic arguing the next week menu as the iceberg was getting closer.

    • Malfleur

      Nonsense. It is critical that the USA come under a Romney administration if it wishes to save its constitution and sail under that flag as it heads into the storms.

      By the way, I take into account that you are a refugee Slav from behind the former iron curtain who was arrested by the commies for being a bad boy, and all credit to you for that, and your prose style is excellent so that I am minded to guess that you are Mr. Boot under a nom de blog. Nonetheless, the phrase is “it matters not a jot”, not a “jolt”.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gladstone.payton Gladstone Payton

        Our constitutional threat derives from partial readings of the Federalist Papers by amateur libertarians consumed with Randian fantasies that ignore the historical role of the federal government as the stabilizing, and central, enabler of both our free markets and our personal liberties.

        • Beefeater

          …Or, from partial readings by collectivists consumed with Marxist fantasies that ignore the constitutional limitations on federal government to prevent it becoming tyrannical by undermining free markets and denying personal liberties.

      • Baron

        Malfleur, sir, Baron just awarded you an up-tick, you’ve got 4 points now, and apologies for the error, not the last one the poorly educated Slav is likely to make.

        Still, you reckon then the Republic could turn to her former glory? How? The jobs that leaked out aren’t coming back, the entitlement culture has settled in, it’s hard to see how it can be reversed, the debt mountain looks like suffocating growth, the country’s split as to which way to reach for the future, what then would bring about the miraculous reawakening of the land of the free, ha?

        and who is Mr. Boot?

    • Malfleur

      Nonsense. It is critical that the USA come under a Romney administration if it wishes to save its constitution and sail under that flag as it heads into the storms.

      By the way, I take into account that you are a refugee Slav from behind the former iron curtain who was arrested by the commies for being a bad boy, and all credit to you for that, and your prose style is excellent so that I am minded to guess that you are Mr. Boot under a nom de blog. Nonetheless, the phrase is “it matters not a jot”, not a “jolt”.

  • Chris

    Obama did seem tired, for sure – that was disappointing. Romney appeared keen, bordering hyperactive. Certainly not a debate that will live in the memory, all told.

  • http://twitter.com/KenJLThomson Ken Thomson

    Obama wasn’t at the races, you might even think he’s jaded and wants out, done his term thanks goodbye. Romney had the ideas, the conviction the passion and the Boris Johnston honesty factor. Hope Mitt does the trick. and inspires a nation depressed by originally smart rhetoric but bland failed old socialist causes and a current president with absolutely no conviction or ideas.

    • AY

      yeah yeah – long live British politicians’ honesty, and bravery, and intellect.
      that is what all progressive humanity wants to win everywhere.

    • JP

      Mitt Romney is no Boris Johnson!

    • JP

      Mitt Romney is no Boris Johnson!

    • JP

      Mitt Romney is no Boris Johnson!

    • JP

      Mitt Romney is no Boris Johnson!

  • CraigStrachan

    Romney was more animated, to be sure.

    Obama was cool.

    • Augustus

      But you can hammer pig iron, and it will crack. Mitt nailed it! Admit it, Romney won.

      • CraigStrachan

        Romney was slick, but he’s still selling snake oil.
        But, look, if you think defunding PBS and laying off Big Bird is the solution to the deficit, Romney’s probably your guy.

        • Beefeater

          PBS and Big Bird are selling snake oil to children. The expensive imported collectivist snake oil that is bankrupting America and warping its constitution.

        • Kent Clayton

          If you think government defunding of PBS is an important national issue Obama is probably your guy. Big Bird would have no problem finding another job. PBS could survive without government funding. They already have commercials, although they don’t call them commercials. Instead of having those stupid boring pledge drives they could sell some commercial time. Even as a child I thought Sesame Street was a bunch of crap. I’d rather watch Tom and Jerry or Roadrunner.

          • CraigStrachan

            I don’t think PBS funding is a pressing issue, and I don’t think it makes but a whit of difference either way on the deficit. Which is why I think Romney raising the issue suggests unseriousness as a candidate and as a deficit reducer.

            And I’m a Bugs Bunny man, myself.

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