Last night was the first of three Presidential debates for the 2012 cycle. The debate was hosted by the corpse of PBS' Jim Lehrer and focused on domestic policy. We felt one of two things could happen last night. One, Romney could have a strong night and turn around what has been a predominantly very bad few months; or Two, he could falter and the attacks from his own side would likely grow exponentially and the next month would be a very ugly.
It's clear option one went down. Romney did very well. America got a taste of why the guy was able to amass a fortune going in to board rooms and convincing smart people they should give him millions of money to manage their companies while crippling them with debt. Romney went through a lot of debates in the primary and his best moments were always when he could focus on one opponent (ask Newt and Rick Perry about that). Here, it was just him and the President and he was ready.
President Obama on the other hand, came off flat. We wondered how he was gonna handle this debate. When going against McCain, who simply could not for the life of him keep his vitriolic hatred for Obama from seeping out of every pore during the debates, all Obama had to do was play it cool. Come off Presidential. It seemed he took the same approach last night. The problem is, Romney isn't McCain. Romney falters, but you've got to knock him off track to make it happen. And Romney showed the President his chin several times last night, but like a fighter up on the scorecard, the President was reluctant to go in and mix it up.
The biggest held punch last night to us was not pouncing all over Mitt's triumphant "trickle down government" remark. He was so pleased with that and it opened his ass so up. All Obama had to do was come back like:
"Trickle down government. That's a cute, phrase, Governor. Reminds me another phrase: trickle down economics. Governor Romney ought to know that phrase, because it's been the underlying economic philosophy of his party for the last half century. It also happens to be the economic philosophy at the heart of Governor Romney's economic plans. Give more money to the wealthy and it will trickle down to everyone else. Unfortunately for Governor Romney and the Republican Party, the American people know that phrase well. More importantly they remember how poorly that economic theory worked when put in to practice by the last three Republican administrations. Trickle down economics didn't work for the American people under Ronald Reagan. Trickle down economics didn't work for the American people under George H.W. Bush. Trickle down economics didn't work for the American people under George W. Bush. The American people don't need me to tell them trickle down economics isn't going to work under Mitt Romney. The American people have already heard this song and dance and they're not buying."
But alas, the President seemed to be playing prevent last night and he held more than a few haymakers he could have thrown.
Carry that boxing analogy over, if we were scoring on points and rounds, Romney is the clear winner. If we had to guess who had the hardest blows, we'd take the President. How is that? Simple, we thought despite his poor overall showing, the President had two of the biggest moments likely to resonate outside of the debate.
The first and most damning for Romney, was the exchange the two had about Medicare, ironically when the question was about Social Security. That was one time where Obama seemed to get really engaged. Remember, he came back hitting Romney for turning SS in to a voucher system. Romney responded by saying he wasn't changing SS for those already in it or about to be. Obama's response of something akin to "Well...if you're 54 or 55 you may want to listen up because this effects you" was great. Romney walked out of that exchange and this debate with a big VOUCHERS sign around his neck. We bet you might see that exchange on some Medicare-centered ads running in FL and OH soon. For all the shots he missed throwing last night, he finally threw that one and it hit.
The second was when the President finally took a shot at Romney for his vagueness. After talking about how Romney won't explain how the math for his tax cuts works, or how pre-existing conditions are covered, he stated:
“At some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves, is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they’re too good?,” Obama said as the debate turned to the 2010 health care law. “Is it because that somehow, middle-class families are going to benefit too much from them?”
The most succinct analysis we saw last night was that Romney won the debate, but Obama got more material for ads going forward. That's about right. Hell...Mitt abandoned his own tax plan last night, along with completely making up shit about pre-existing conditions being covered under his plans for health care. The biggest problem for the President after last night is not so much the actual debates, but how they will be covered. Let's face it, the people who watch debates are political diehards. Their minds have been made up. Anyone who is truly "undecided" doesn't follow politics enough to waste time sitting through a debate. But they will catch the media coverage. And right now, that's not good for the President. Romney will get a bump.
However, keep things in perspective and someone please calm Chris Matthews down. Lest we forget, John Kerry thumped W pretty hard in that first debate. How'd that work out? And yes...Republicans will grasp on the memory of the Gipper whupping up on that peanut farmer from Georgia. But, as we have said since Romney got the GOP nod, this election is the reverse '04 election. Mitt Romney is way more John Kerry then he is Ronald Reagan. And as Mitt himself told those folks in the 47% video...Obama has that George W. Bush quality of people simply liking him.
We've got 2 more Presidential debates coming. Oct. 16th on Foreign and Domestic issues and Oct. 22 on Foreign policy. The next debate is actually the VP debate Oct. 11th, covering Foreign and Domestic issues. There will now be some pressure on Biden to pull a little more weight to stop momentum from continuing to shift over to the right.
What do we think? We still think the math simply doesn't work for Romney-Ryan. But it certainly has gotten more interesting for the media and the right going forward.