Republican Presidential contender Mitt Romney needed to accomplish three things to emerge as a clear winner in Wednesday’s Presidential debate: Not screw up, stay on message and throw President Barack Obama off his game.
Romney accomplished the first two with ease. He was aggressive, in control and dominant. He stayed on message.
Obama gave him the third without a fight. The President was off his game from the beginning, appearing distracted, often confused and seldom on message. He came into the debate surprisingly unprepared, perhaps overconfident in his abilities to wing it without preparation.
There was barely a moment when Obama offered any sense that he was prepared to challenge Romney on his weakest point: who does the Republican presidential nominee speak for? How much (or little) does he understand where the country is, how it got here?
Even on the most basic political points, Obama seemed clueless. When you argue as a Democrat that you and your Republican opponent share wide areas of agreement on Social Security—especially when recipients make up a chunk of Romney’s “47 percent” of indolent spongers—you have thrown in a fistful of high cards.
Romney came into debate prepared for a fight. Obama clearly did not.
Will the President’s lackluster performance reset the race and put Romney back into the game?
Worried Democratic strategists told Capitol Hill Blue privately following the debate Wednesday night that the President’s performance was — at best — a debacle.
“This was the worst performance I have witnessed by an incumbent President,” grumbled one.
While the “official” message from the Democratic spin room tried to characterize Romney as “testy,” the Obama faithful admitted to each other that the President “blew this one.”
Early indicators suggest voters — who for the most part had made up their mind — may reconsider.
An instant CBS polls of undecided voters gave the debate win to Romney. Many said they were rethinking the GOP Presidential nominee and seeing him in a different — and better — light. Other polling says those who leaned towards Obama may now take a second look at Romney.
“The President single-handedly put Romney back into the race,” said one Democratic strategist.
Obama’s listless performance suggest a President who is not only tired and off his game but also one whose arrogance has left him vulnerable.
The first Presidential debate was Romney’s to win or lose. He won handily. Obama could have avoided disaster by simply holding his own. He failed.
Yes, it wasn’t the best atmospherics for Obama to look down, purse his lips, appear distracted, while Romney was attentive, engaged, relaxed. But this was much more than atmospherics. This was about one candidate who came with a frame for the evening, and who was prepared to engage on every question; and another who, perhaps because of his documented faith in his own abilities, felt he could wing it with snatches of familiar verbiage.
With little more than a month — and two more Presidential debates — to go, the early indicators suggest a race that will tighten and become more interesting.
Score round one for Romney.
And show Obama as a loser.