I apparently hit my daily tweet limit about 60 minutes into the 90 minute debate, so I’ll do things the old fashioned way and consolidate my thoughts in a blog post. I obviously watched a lot of the twitter reaction live, but I paused the Tivo so I could write this before listening to a lot of the talking heads on the networks and in the spin rooms.
Bottom line here is that Romney knocked this one out of the park. This was a brand new Romney that has not been visible at any time in the last year of campaigning. He was strong. He was confident. He completely controlled the conversation. He looked relaxed and comfortable. He looked at home. Dare I say it, he looked “Presidential”.
Meanwhile Obama looked uncomfortable and nervous. He played right into Romney’s narrative by actually apologizing at least once. He backed down when Romney kept telling him not to say a particular thing, with a meek resigned “OK”. He looked flustered. He looked distracted. He rambled. He did not defend well against attacks. He sat there and took it, and looked sheepish. He looked outmatched on the stage. He was not coming off well from the very first minutes, and after we were a couple of questions in, he knew it too, and it got worse as the evening progressed.
The fact checkers are going to go to town on this debate. As always, there will be a lot of inaccuracies and untruths, and probably some outright lies. There quite possibly will be a lot more of those from Romney’s side. We’ll see. But it won’t matter. As I tweeted during the debate, “A confident lie can come across better than a hesitant truth. Unfortunately.” What people will remember here is how Romney was in charge, and Obama looked harried and beaten.
Meanwhile, finally, finally, finally, we see Romney pivot to the center. This was a brand new Romney. As I also tweeted, “The Etch a Sketch finally arrives.” This was not the Romney who was pandering to all the right wing wackos. Suddenly we once again have the centrist moderate who could actually get elected in Massachusetts. He defended Romneycare! He didn’t run away from it as he has so many times in the past. He talked about bipartisanship and about working with Democrats. He tried to claim the mantle of defender of the middle class, and repudiate notions of him being an advocate for the rich.
Now, I actually suspect some of this is more like the “real” Romney, as compared to where he had to go to win the nomination. But this Romney has been missing for a long time. Suddenly, this Romney is back. And this is the Romney that could actually have a shot against Obama. The other Romney didn’t stand a chance.
And Romney scores a much needed change in the narrative. There have been comments going around for the past two weeks that whatever Romney needs, the MEDIA needs a change in the narrative to make things exciting again. The only thing the whole of the media (and yeah, probably me too) are uncontroversially and in 100% agreement on their bias about, is the bias toward the dramatic and the interesting rather than the boring and predictable. Walking to a clear Obama win is boring. A Romney comeback and surge is exciting. But a seed is still needed to go there. This debate will provide that seed.
For at least a few days, and quite likely straight through to the next Presidential debate in 13 days absent another big flub from Romney, or a major news event, the chatter will be all about Romney changing the momentum and about if Obama can find a way to get his mojo back for the second debate. Suddenly, for the first time this whole election cycle, Obama will look like he is on the defensive.
This was a very bad night for Obama.
Now, will it make any difference at all in the polls? In my Electoral College Analysis?
Maybe. My gut though is that the Political Scientists are pretty much right though, and with the exception of something much more dramatic than what we saw tonight, debates in the end don’t matter very much. The vast majority of the electorate has already made up their mind. There are really very few in the center who are truly undecided. And of those only a small portion will make up their minds based on a debate performance. Having said that, the nature of the spin cycle will move the polls some. Maybe just a few points. But some.
Now, in order to actually win, Romney needs a big move toward him. Not a little one. But even a relatively small move will start moving some states where Obama is ahead by more than 5% back into the zone where they are close. And it might pull a few states that are just leaning Obama over the line to where they are leaning Romney. That will improve Romney’s position in my model, but won’t actually put him ahead. Not for a small move anyway. Not for just a 2% or 3% shift. He would need a bigger move than that.
I don’t think this debate can give him that. But if this “new Romney” keeps showing up, and keeps hitting it out of the park, and this uncertain, tired looking Obama keeps showing up, then that will just build on top of whatever small gain Romney gets directly from this debate.
And then we could have a real race again.
On Curmudgeon’s Corner Ivan and I had said many times that Romney may not be able to do anything specifically to win this race, but Obama can certainly lose it if he screws up. Obama screwed up tonight. And on top of that Romney was on fire. If they had both been at their best it would have been a draw. But Romney ran the table tonight, and Obama looked like he wanted to go home.
This may just be the opening Romney needs. It may not be enough. It *probably* won’t be enough. My guess is that at best it will put Romney back where he was right after the Republican convention… which was still losing, just not by as much. Climbing past that point to win over states where Obama is currently ahead by huge margins is not going to be easy. I think Romney will hit a wall at about the same places he has peaked before.
But, but, it gives him a much needed opening.