All across America on Tuesday night, a little after 10:30, Democrats were leaning forward in their seats, rubbing their hands in eager anticipation while Republicans covered their eyes and winced over what was about to happen. Mitt Romney, after spending the night treating his opponent, the moderator, and the truth with ugly contempt, had just done the nicest thing you could imagine: He’d offered President Obama a kind invitation to close the festivities by invoking the Republican’s most devastating blunder of the campaign, his “47 percent” remarks at a fundraiser in Boca Raton last May. Not once, but twice, Romney had used his own closing moments to claim that he cares about “100 percent” of Americans.
Obama graciously accepted the gift, turning his final answer into the piece de resistance of an evening when he hit every note he needed to hit—and turned the confident Romney of Denver into a caged animal, prowling the stage with a fierce scowl and bickering with the moderator rather than wooing the town-hallers. (You do not want to meet this man in a dark alleyway.) As he began to gently insert the knife, Obama said, “I believe Governor Romney is a good man. Loves his family, cares about his faith. But”—wait for it!—“I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about. Folks on Social Security who've worked all their lives. Veterans who've sacrificed for this country. Students who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country's dreams. Soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now. People who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don't make enough income. And I want to fight for them.”
This was far more than a clever way to capitalize on an opponent’s blunders, and miles beyond a mere "gotcha!" Obama used the “47 percent” to powerfully encapsulate the whole rationale for his campaign—when, that is, it has clicked. What has worked for Obama 2012, all along, has been its populist theme: We’re with regular folks, and he’s against you. It’s the oldest trick in the political playbook, yet it almost never fails. It’s the reason Team Obama decided not to run against Romney as a flip-flopper, but instead as an out-of-touch champion of the radical, wealth-first right. And if it is a template for the last three weeks of the Obama campaign, as it damn well ought to be, Democrats will likely have even more reason to cheer on November 6 than they had on a jubilant Tuesday night.
So They Say
"I’ve decided next Tuesday I’ve got to have an exorcism of Romney out of my being.”
—John Kerry on Morning Joe, talking about his plans after playing the Republican in Obama's debate prep
Daily Meme: Trading Spaces
- After the conclusion of last night's town hall one couldn't be faulted for thinking Obama's team must have thought the Denver debate's theme was Opposite Day.
- The two candidates switched their sartorial stand-bys from their first debate—Romney traded his red tie for a blue one, while the incumbent traded his typical neckwear for the opposite hue as well.
- This time, liberal pundits were singing a far happier tune once the verbal sparring match—which nearly came to blows—segued into the spin room.
- While MSNBC went full The Day After Tomorrow after the first debate, Rachel Maddow called last night the best debate performance of Obama's career.
- Steve Kornacki also deemed it Obama's best debate ever, a markedly different reaction than he had last time.
- Andrew Sullivan flipped out after the first debate, saying "How is Obama's closing statement so fucking sad, confused and lame? He choked. He lost. He may even have lost the election tonight." This week, Obama "came back like a lethal, but restrained predator." Grrr!
- Few Republican pundits would stoop to giving Obama a win, but most called the debate a near draw—with requisite grumbles about the moderator and the time alloted to each candidate, which in Fox News's terms translates to a meltdown of MSNBC and Andrew Sullivan proportions.
- After the last debate, Republicans got fired up. This time, the Obama campaign seems to have taken back its slogan.
What We're Writing
- Paul Waldman lays down a compelling—and very thorough—argument for why those putting Candy Crowley in Team Obama's binder are wrong.
- Abby Rapoport rounds up the referenda around the country concerning marijuana legalization—including one in pot's final frontier, the South.
What We're Reading
- The other important debate that took place in the last 24 hours? Bissinger v. Bouie!
- Adam Davidson asks: Do good C.E.O.s actually make good presidents?
- It's not a political event until the Gregory Brothers auto-tune it.
- NPR investigates every political junkie's favorite October pasttime—predicting election results.
- Tired of the 2012 debate? Check out the Lincoln/Johnson 1864 campaign website for a change of pace.
- Amy Sullivan writes that yesterday's debate highlights the reasons why women just aren't that into Mitt.
- Nate Silver warns: Cherry-pick from the polls at your own risk.
- The Onion's best contribution to the debate news overload last night? A highly entertaining dispatch from the ol' town hall.
Poll of the Day
Almost a quarter million school kids voted in the mock presidential election poll Scholastic Student Vote, and among those precluded from the polling booth by the Constitution, Obama wins 51-45. The poll isn't foolproof, but the Scholastic presidential pick has gone on to win every election except for 1960 and 1948.
For more polling information, go to the Prospect’s 2012 election map.