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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Beldar on the second Obama-Romney debate

I intend to mix metaphors with enthusiasm in this post, but that's the only enthusiasm you'll find in it if you're a fellow conservative.

Nobody made a Ford/Poland-size gaffe last night. There are those who argue that in the biggest picture, against an incumbent President, a challenger "wins" merely by holding his own, fighting to an approximate draw, because burnishing his "potentially presidential" image is more important than who made better arguments. I'm not entirely convinced of that, but in any event it begs the question of who got the better of whom in any particular debate. In my judgment, last night President Obama got the better of Gov. Romney by a nontrivial margin.

Of course the moderating was pathetically biased. Conservatives continue to find this surprising in exactly the same fashion that Charlie Brown continues to be surprised when Lucy snatches the football away just before he can kick it, causing him to flip over and land on his head. I stopped laughing when Charlie Brown does this sometime back in the 1970s. Lucy will keep yanking the ball away, though, until Charlie Brown withdraws his cooperation from the exercise, and so too the Democrats and the Debates Commission will keep foisting these mainstream media moderators onto us and the American public until we withdraw ours.

Single most important result:

President Obama generally succeeded in reversing the impression of disengagement and lassitude he'd generated in even his own partisans during his first appearance against Romney. And he did so without, for the most part, going nearly so over the top in his disrespect or smirking as Biden had. This was not a particularly high bar — the silver lining to what was perceived as Obama's disastrous first performance was that it certainly lowered expectations for his subsequent ones! — but he cauterized the wounds in the Democratic base's self-confidence that Biden had merely bandaged. Had Obama failed to clear this low bar, the race would have ended last night because the wounds from the first debate on the Dems' GOTV/turn-out efforts would have turned out to be definitively mortal. They may still turn out to be; but for now, the patient has been stabilized.


Like every news-following conservative who watched the debate, I am thoroughly mystified, and more than just a little disappointed, by Gov. Romney's unpreparedness on the subject of Ambassador Chris Stevens' assassination. For the last several days, the President's proxies have been pointing to the "no acts of terror" phrase in his Rose Garden remarks on the day after the attack. They've used that phrase as their exclusive justification for the claim that the Administration was not completely and unequivocally devoted to the dishonest "it was all about the YouTube video" excuse that was otherwise the entire focus of Obama's remarks that day, and that the Administration shamefully and dishonestly continued to peddle through U.N. Ambassador Rice and others for more than a week thereafter. Was Romney genuinely surprised when Obama used that phrase to defend himself in the debate? I think he was feigning surprise as part of an effort to set and spring a trap. But his effort was so bungled that he ended up looking merely badly informed himself — and thus the trap effectively closed on Romney instead of on Obama. An adequately skillful set-up would have anticipated that Obama would have nothing but that phrase to rely upon, and would therefore have acknowledged that single phrase, but gone on — before Obama had a chance to use it again — to explain why it's not a credible excuse.

Even TIME's Mark Thompson calls Team Obama's reliance on that single "no acts of terror" phrase a "[p]retty weak reed," and says of Obama's word games (italics his) that "in Tuesday night's second presidential debate, we also learned that President Obama isn’t beyond twisting what he said then [in his Rose Garden remarks] to make him sound better now." Weak or even twisted reed that it may have been, however, Romney permitted Obama (with an assist from the moderator) to thrash him about the head and shoulders with it on national television. In basketball terms, just as Romney was about to shoot, he bobbled the ball into Obama's hands, and then Obama got away with traveling on a fast-break and scored an uncontested three-pointer after the ref set a pick for him. But it still goes into the record books as an unforced error by Romney that destroyed a scoring opportunity and gave up a score to his opponent.

I also thought Gov. Romney missed another opportunity in his closing. Obama hadn't yet hit him hard on the "47 percent" gaffe. But both Romney and Obama knew that Obama would get to speak last. So Romney absolutely, positively knew when he gave his closing two minutes that an attack based on this gaffe would be coming, and that he (Romney) wouldn't have any further chance last night to rebut it. Romney did try to indirectly anticipate Obama's attack by insisting that he "cares about 100 percent of the American people," and that he wants "100 percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future." But this had become the ideal opportunity to make his most public and most specific disavowal of, and apology for, the gaffe. And had he done so, he might have effectively "pulled the teeth" from the gaffe himself before Obama could use them to bite Romney.

Since Romney didn't specifically and preemptively disavow the gaffe, however, when it came Obama's turn to close, then sure enough, instead of having had his planned sound-bite disrupted by a Romney spoiling attack, Obama was able to land the exact lines he'd pre-planned — and he still got good mileage from them.


So as far as the debates considered in isolation go, I score the series at two games to one, with one left to play. Certainly both candidates must avoid any Ford/Poland-magnitude gaffes at the last one. I still think unlikely any scenario in which the debates are going to turn out in a way that helps the Obama-Biden ticket overall on a net basis. And the Obama partisans' original fantasy — that Obama would dominate Romney as thoroughly in these debates as he had John McCain — isn't going to be resurrected, so at this point I think they'd be quite happy to salvage a two-to-two overall tie.

Posted by Beldar at 09:18 AM in 2012 Election, Obama, Politics (2012), Romney | Permalink


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(1) Norman Rogers made the following comment | Oct 17, 2012 11:20:33 AM | Permalink

I (respectfully) disagree. Yes, Romney failed to land a knockout blow on Libya. But ... the post debate debate in the next couple of days will focus on the President's coverup and the next debate (on foreign policy) will afford Romney the opportunity to win by TKO.

The President's foreign policy is a miserable failure (to borrow the Senate Majority Leader's favorite phrase). The vaunted Arab Spring touted by Hillary and Obama has turned north Africa into an Al Qaeda (aka Moslem Brotherhood) playground. Obama bombed Gaddafi (literally) to death and the attach and assassination of our Ambassador is just the latest chapter.

Instead of defending America's laudable right of free speech, Obama picked an obscure video by a private citizen to base his latest apology for America. (Had someone under Obama's command said or done something similar, perhaps Obama's groveling been defensible).

Fer sure, Obama was much better this time around. This will gladden his base, but I don't think it will arrest Romney's ascendancy.

(2) Ken Finney made the following comment | Oct 17, 2012 11:27:33 AM | Permalink

Obama came across to me as shrill and desperate.
Romney as calm and in command.

I know who I would vote for based upon that. But being Canadian, I don't get a vote :-)

(3) stan made the following comment | Oct 17, 2012 2:29:16 PM | Permalink

I agree with the pundits who say that Romney wins simply be being able to show Americans that Obama and the news media have been lying about him all summer. He's not an extreme nut. Win.

Beyond that low threshold, however, he actually has a message that resonates. The public doesn't give a damn about debating points. They want to get a feel for general competence and some idea of policy preferences. Romney keeps talking to the people watching on tv. He understands the main goal and focuses directly on it.

Every debate the GOP gains strength in public opinion.

BTW -- the reason the GOP has to agree to bend over for the debate moderators is that the debates are critical to giving the GOP a chance to show a less filtered view of themselves. Better the small filtering of a moderator than the full court press of daily news coverage.

(4) Michael made the following comment | Oct 18, 2012 12:10:51 AM | Permalink

Best analysis I've seen. Do You think,if you want Romney to win, contributing is going to make much difference?

(5) Beldar made the following comment | Oct 18, 2012 12:59:46 AM | Permalink

Thanks for these thoughtful comments, including those which disagree with my post. Michael (#4), my last-minute contributions will go to selected GOP candidates for U.S. House and Senate seats in presidential battleground states, rather than to either a national PAC or the Romney-Ryan campaign. My theory is that my contributions, while quite modest, will nevertheless potentially have a bigger proportional impact on those races than they would on the presidential race, and that a Romney-Ryan administration still needs to keep a solid House majority and recapture, or at a minimum significantly improve the GOP's current position, in the Senate. But by focusing on battleground states, I'm hedging my bets a little — hoping that those House and Senate candidates' last-minute ad buys might also have some reverse-coattails and up-ticket GOTV effect. My theory might be naive or impractical, and it admittedly has as a downside that my name (including mailing and email addresses) are on a whole lot more fundraising mailing lists than I'm traditionally used to (or would desire to be).

(6) Mark L made the following comment | Oct 18, 2012 1:43:29 PM | Permalink

Actually I don't think Romney's "gaff" on Libya was that serious. Part of Romney's problem was due to the fact that the moderator came off the bench to tackle Romney before he made his real point and skew the discussion into the meaningless argument over whether "acts of terror" were a reference to "an act of terrorism." (In truth the two are not equivalent, and Ann Althouse had a good analogy showing that the President's comment were analogous to a detective stating that "acts of murder would not discourage us" was not a statement as to whether someone found dead of undetermined causes had been murdered.

The opportunity really missed by Romney was the assault rifle question. Romney should have led with Fast and Furious rather than using that as a follow up. Had he started by "the best way to reduce the use of assault weapons by criminals was to have the government *not* provide criminals with assault-style weapons the way they did in Fast and Furious." Then he could have gone into the rest of his answer. It would have been much more difficult for Crowley to cut off the F&F discussion framed like that. But even there, Mitt still scored a single off a bunt.

Mitt did what he had to do -- expose the President's lack of a second term agenda, remind people of the President's dismal record over the last four years, offer a vision, and show that he, Mitt, was credible as a potential President. Anything more than that is gravy, while Mitt's performance on Tues should be enough to lead to his getting at least 52% of the popular vote and an EV count above 300.

Absent a game-changing event over the next two weeks, that is.

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