Romney Wins ... and It Won't Matter

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney embraces granddaughter Chloe at the end of the first presidential debate.

For the last two weeks, I have argued—consistently—that the debates don’t matter for the outcome of the presidential election. And now that we’ve had the first debate, I still think that’s true.

Which is not to say that this wasn’t interesting. For the first time since he began running for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney looked comfortable. During his debate with President Obama, he took command, clearly explained his points of disagreement, and offered a little humanity with stories of the unemployed and suffering.

He even shook the Etch-a-Sketch; on everything from tax policy—he disavowed his plan to cut taxes across-the-board—to health care (where he praised his Massachusetts reform bill), Romney made an abrupt move to the center, and it was hugely effective. It’s no exaggeration to say that Romney gave one of the best performances of his political career.

President Obama, on the other hand, didn’t fare as well. He couldn’t complete a statement without pausing. When Romney spoke, he looked down. When given the chance to offer a sharp contrast to the Republican nominee—“How do you and Governor Romney differ on Social Security?”—he demurred. And despite Romney’s willingness to bend or disregard the facts, Obama had little to say about his opponents honesty, or lack thereof. Romney’s excellence in this debate was matched—pound for pound—by Obama’s failure.

For pundits, journalists, and commentators across the spectrum, this is clear evidence that the presidential race has become a toss-up again, providing fodder for endless analysis, and justifying their continued employment. “A week ago, people were saying this was over. We’ve got a horse race,” said David Gergen in a bit of post-debate analysis. On the other side of things, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews had a near-meltdown over Obama’s listless performance: “I don’t know what he was doing out there, he had his head down, he was enduring the debate rather than fighting it.” According to CNN’s instant polling, 67 percent of viewers say that Romney won the debate, compared to the lonely 25 percent who say that Obama had the advantage. Overall, viewers gave Romney a win on everything, from the economy and health care to taxes, the deficit, and views of government.

There’s no question that Romney crushed the president, who gave a poor performance. But the facts are clear: This won’t determine the outcome.

It’s worth looking back to the 2004 presidential debates. The unanimous opinion was that John Kerry punished George W. Bush. Whereas Bush was churlish, impatient, and aloof, Kerry was dynamic and aggressive. He came away from the debates with momentum and a boost in the polls.

Twenty-two days after the final debate, Bush won reelection with 50.7 percent of the vote.

Winning debates doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t do much to help either. At most, this debate will give Romney a bump in the polls. But even that’s an open question. Kerry’s gains came from winning Democratic voters back from Bush, and moving Democrats away from the undecided column. There was slack in the electorate, and that gave Kerry a little space to grow.

The same isn’t true this year. Obama is winning the vast majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, while Romney is doing the same for Republicans. There isn’t much across-the-aisle voting in this election, which means that Romney needs to win undecideds and break Obama’s coalition to make gains. To do that, he needs to offer a convincing argument to Democratic voters and, so far, his campaign hasn’t been able to clear that hurdle. Yes, the debate helped him look serious and presidential, but that’s never been his problem: Romney moves with an aura of competence. What he lacks is detail and conviction.

Put another way, Romney gave a great performance, but there was nothing in his rhetoric that would convince an Obama voter to switch sides. By next week, polling will catch up with events and we’ll have a sense of how voters reacted to the first presidential debate. My guess? The polls will show little or no change. To borrow from political scientists Robert Erikson and Christopher Weizen, “the best prediction from the debates is the initial verdict before the debates.”

At the end of the month, odds are good that Obama will be where he was at the beginning of the month—ahead.

Comments

Did the silicone get in your brain? Do some research, the left has been touting the polls for months, and Romney's performance last night shifted them! Man, you leftys are clutching at straws now.

Polls shifted? I guess for you they did. The real polls are not even out yet.

Well, like you, I am NOT an undecided voter, however:

"A CBS News poll of undecided voters who watched the debate found 46 percent siding with Mr. Romney, 22 percent for Mr. Obama and 32 percent saying it was a tie"

http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/04/polls-show-a-strong-debate-for-romney/

RobbedMe lied. Everyone saw him do it.

What did he lie about Wellstone?

Was it 58 million? That is a lot.

I guess this didn't matter, either.
http://www.policymic.com/articles/15137/obama-univision-interview-president-struggles-with-tough-questions-about-immigration-reform
Based on this performance, I thought the President might look like he was not very engaged or interested in the debate. I had no idea what a dramatic difference between the two candidates would emerge.
"White" Obama supporters - please continue to tell yourself that all "Hispanics" will auto-vote in large numbers for their fellow man of color.

What Romney did for 90 minutes was expose himself to the entire nation as a consummate liar; his "Etch-A-Stetch" moment has arrived. If you believe anything he has said prior to last night, then last night he lied about his tax plan, lied about health care, lied about his party's approach to Social Security, lied about education, lied about what all he and the Republican Congress together would cut in the budget if he slashes taxes on unearned income the way his plan actually proposes to do, again refused to specify in any concrete way how he could keep the Bush tax rates, cut them an additional 20 percent (which he has specifically advocated), and maintain current revenue levels. He gave the old supply side cliches to justify his lies, cliches that didn't lower the deficit in the 1980s, didn't do it from 2001 to 2008, and only the dumbest and most uninformed would buy.

One can argue in favor of cutting taxes on unearned and passive income for any number of reasons (most would not sell politically as Romney knows, and was caught on secret video admitting), but one cannot argue based on historical facts that doing so results in a lower federal deficit.

This debate revealed Obama's chief stylistic weakness as a politician, and Romney's only real strength. Obama has consistently performed well as a stump speaker throughout his career, and poorly in formal settings like debates, press conferences, etc. It is a cliche to say it, but Obama is a great campaigner and a poor communicator when governing. That does not mean he actually governs worst than the alternative (Romney) would. Romney is an incompetent retail politician, but like a lot of stiff, smarmy types, he does passably well in formal settings like debates, and corporate board presentations. Obama did carefully, and deliberately draw the necessary contrasts with Romney, and gave Romney the rope he can be hung with in the subsequent debates, if Obama can convince himself they are stump speeches instead of debates.

If the country now decides to buy Romney's BS, and elect him because pundits tell them Romney won this debate going away because Obama wasn't nasty enough to call him a liar to his face, then the voters deserve to be lied to, and they will get their reward over the next four years.

They will get a messy, ill conceived war with Iran. They will get massive, windfall tax cuts on passive and unearned income for financial speculators. Elimination of common and popular exemptions and deductions that proportionally affect earned income and wage earners, and a federal deficit increasing beyond the current projections. Do you think Wall Street Willard will end or reduce the deduction for "carried interest" that private equity speculators like himself use? That isn't going to happen, and he is smart enough not to tell anyone that.

Something else isn't going to happen. Romney is not going to win the election. If he did, then Karl Rove and Jeb Bush's best laid plans for 2016 would have gone badly awry. Karl is not that sloppy.

If it takes it, there will be another secret recording out there that goes public. Or maybe some interesting tax returns will pop up on Wikileaks.

"If the country now decides to buy Romney's BS"
Why not? Obviously you bought the whole "hopey-changey" line of BS.

Is that all you loons can come up with? That's a tired old line of crap an no one listens to that. If you think he lied, tell us what you think he lied about and why you think he would. Is it because Obama said it today and now you parrot? Mitt Romney is a man of faith and doesn't really need to lie. You libs just hate the truth so you call it a lie.

"the debates don’t matter for the outcome of the presidential election"

Tell that to Nixon, Carter, Ford, et al.

And with regard to Kerry in 2004 - The man is a boring, useless, pompous windbag who married wealth twice rather than go earn his living.

We the People can be dumb sometimes, but we're not that stupid.

Won't matter? You wish, pal!

I think Limbaugh said it best today on his program when he said that Obama did worse in last night's debate than he did in his debate with Clint Eastwood at the RNC!

Jamelle

You are not just whistling past the graveyard, you are whistling off-key and out of tune!

Kerry “beat” Bush 53% to 37% (far less than the 62%-25% drubbing Romney put on Obama last night) and his standing in the polls changed dramatically. Prior to the debates, Bush held an 11% lead in the Gallup poll, it was tied after the second, and after the last debate (which many feel Bush won) Gallup showed a 3% edge for Bush – the margin he won by.

Bear in mind that Bush led 53-42% before the debate, while Gallup has not shown Obama to be over 50% or to have had anywhere near a double digit lead since the campaign began in earnest. Obama held only a 4 point lead with Gallup just before the debates. Moreover, Bush had a much better economic situation and, while leftists think the war circumstance hurt Bush’s position, the truth is that American voters do not “change horse in the middle of a stream.” Obama has none of those advantages.

Factor in this year’s problems with polling (dramatically reduced response rates with evidence that Dems are much more likely to respond than Rep OR Inds) and what was probably a dead heat already is about to fall apart for the Obama camp.

Its OK to be partisan - its not OK to be as stupid as this column.

Jamelle

You are not just whistling past the graveyard, you are whistling off-key and out of tune!

Kerry “beat” Bush 53% to 37% (far less than the 62%-25% drubbing Romney put on Obama last night) and his standing in the polls changed dramatically. Prior to the debates, Bush held an 11% lead in the Gallup poll, it was tied after the second, and after the last debate (which many feel Bush won) Gallup showed a 3% edge for Bush – the margin he won by.

Bear in mind that Bush led 53-42% before the debate, while Gallup has not shown Obama to be over 50% or to have had anywhere near a double digit lead since the campaign began in earnest. Obama held only a 4 point lead with Gallup just before the debates. Moreover, Bush had a much better economic situation and, while leftists think the war circumstance hurt Bush’s position, the truth is that American voters do not “change horse in the middle of a stream.” Obama has none of those advantages.

Factor in this year’s problems with polling (dramatically reduced response rates with evidence that Dems are much more likely to respond than Rep OR Inds) and what was probably a dead heat already is about to fall apart for the Obama camp.

Its OK to be partisan - its not OK to be as stupid as this column.

Romney didn't change positions last night, he simply got the chance to explain them. And guess what, they aren't as harsh as the left made them out to be.
America found out who the real leader was. It was CEO versus community organizer. Even Obama subconsciously recognized who the alpha male in the room was that is why he acted the way he did. I give Obama credit, he was over-matched and instinctively knew enough to stand down.

Obama continued to show what an empty suit he is with his juvenile "Big Bird" speech today. Obama, please, could you at least act like you are a grown adult, even if you aren't qualified to be president. If Obama was honest he would admit the job of president is over his head. He loves the life style but not the job.
Looks like we finally have found someone who can be a real president. Go Romney.
I predict a 3 point jump in the polls by October 10th for Romney. "Ol' Mo" has switched sides.

Really looking forward to your comments on November 7.

Romney isn't a "bully," Obama and Lehrer are just soft. When Obama hoops, his go to move is flopping.

That second sentence is one of the best comments I've ever read on any blog (politics, sports, finance, entertainment, whatever). Well done sir.

The key to an economic recovery is strong presidential leadership and a stable, functioning, predictable Congress. Regardless of who wins this next presidential election, all Americans must see the next president as fully vetted and qualified.

To that end, Romney should lead by example and allow the Obama campaign complete and full access to his natal hospital records, as well as his Michigan Health Department records, to publicly prove he is a natural born Citizen, and ask Obama to do the same with his Hawaiian Health Department records and his natal hospital records*.

ex animo
davidfarrar
*This should only be done if Romney truly believes Obama is a natural born Citizen, born in Hawaii.

"RobbedMe?" Hadn't heard that one. So very clever. And he's a LIAR LIAR LIAR!!! Goodness the Libs are in full panic mode.

Romney won and Obama was shown to be the empty suit that he is. You liberals, have hyped and protected Obama for years and now it is clear he can't speak well without a teleprompter. Independents already favor Romney and undecided are going to break for him as well. Obama is going to lose.

Of course Romney didn't change the minds of the average Prospect reader (or, in Jamelle's case, contributor). He probably didn't make any Mother Jones, Daily Worker, or Nation fans rethink their votes either. But that's not the target audience - and to some extent, neither is the far right. The 20-30% of the electorate that is truly undecided/independent is who Wednesday night's bloodbath will impact, and if the ratings numbers are any indication, there were an awful lot of those people tuning in. You are perfectly free to think it didn't matter that BHO got his butt handed to him by a smarter, more experienced, and more polished leader in Denver, but given the absolute panic induced over at MSNBC and throughout social media, I'm relatively certain it did matter. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to finish bundling up the $2500 Romney/Ryan contributions from my family and friends. That ruffling sound you hear isn't the fall leaves outside but rather millions of "evil 1%ers" reaching for their wallets and checkbooks.... "pay to the order of Romney/Ryan 2012 victory fund....two-thousand five hundred and xx/100..."

No denying it, Romney won this debate but people are equally talking about why the president didn't rebuttal the rapid fire lies and flip flops by Romney. When the smoke clears the nation still has the same Romney. This isn't the Reagan era. When you etch a sketch one month before the election people will see this for the facade it is. Romney wins one debate and the media and pundits act like the past 18 months of red meat throwing rhetoric never happened. Romney will look at his debate trophy in the Cayman's someday and wonder why it didn't help him the election.

I take no pleasure in this, but it doesn't seem people are seeing through the facade.

"47%? ... Wrong." We’re all breathless, watching Mr. Romney’s daredevil act, as he stops to patch yet another hole in a disintegrating bridge. We doubted he could make it across without jettisoning the tea party load, so there was a lot of excitement on Wednesday when he finally did that, but it’s tough to see how he’s going to ditch Paul Ryan, his party platform, and the facts. His bulldozing clumsiness doesn’t seem to help much, either.

You have got to be a dumb ass if you think Mitt won the debate! He look out of his comfort zone. He was rude, angry, agitated, and just look like the dumb ass that he is! All he did was tell lies and avoid direct questions, just like he has always done through out his platform. He did not answer any of the question with a straight, direct answer! Obama did a great job with poise, professional, presidential demeanor! If the shoe had been on the other foot, Obama would look too agressive and angry, it is just a matter of time for Ole Mitt put his foot in his mouth again, because he is an idiot! Obama just have to sit back and give Mitt room to hang his damn self! Obama is going to get re-elected so you GOP need do us all a favor and kill yourselves! It isyou people that got this country in a rut, with 8 years of GOP and Bush reigh! How in the hell is Obama going to fix this sesis pool with 4 years! That is like like saying 2+2 is 6! Obama is still ahead of Mitt in the electoral college votes, so all of his shennigans and speaking out of term did nothing for him, except make him look like the angry, arrognant, out of touch jackass that he really is! The American people know a liar one they see one, no matter how you dress him up!

Only TV Talking Heads, Chateratti, could take such a Festival of Insincerity seriously.

In a life of 60 - 80 years and having family members, something maybe bad, but certainly very expensive is going to happen to a person or some loved one. It will be a severe illness, or accident, or old age care needs, or recession, whatever. If Constitutional general welfare entitlements are cut, our children will be subject to greater risk of impoverishment than now. Hopefully the trend toward voting for the safer, non-T-Party candidates seen now will be recognized by more and more people up through the election. I'd respectfully urge undecided voters on that basis to refrain from voting for T-Party types.

Guess what? Robme brought his 47% comment front and center all over again with his "apology" or more accurately, big fat lie. There's a piece in the NY Times detailing just how bipartisan he WASN'T while governor----as well as how much he sucked at his job. There's evidence that he well have cheated in the debates---which given his proclivity for lying and how he skirted the rules for the Univision pieces, is entirely believable.

Lastly, is a great jobs report. And while I get that Thurston's insisting he could do better---not really. As governor of MA, while the economy was vastly stronger, he only lowered the unemployment rate by a point over 4 years and was 47th in the nation in job growth.

The sound you hear is Mittens's 15 minutes of one win in 130 days ticking away....

Romney proved that he can tell lies faster than Obama can tell the truth. Does that make him the winner of the debate? Why isn't truthfulness the main criterion for scoring debates?

Romney looks presidential? Indeed. Look at how he looked when he went to Europe -- shallow, insensitive, almost immature.

October 15, 2012
Hello, my fellow American voters!
I watched the Oct. 3rd presidential and Oct. 11th vice-presidential debates.
Romney-Obama debate covered 7 topics: jobs; budget deficit/debt; social security/entitlements; federal regulation of economy; healthcare; federal government role in economy; partisan gridlock.
Ryan-Biden debate covered 10 topics: Libya; Iran; economy; medicare/social security/entitlements; taxes/tax reform/spending/budget cuts; military policy; Afghanistan; Syria; abortion; negative campaign tactics.
As an INDEPENDENT, I support the Romney/Ryan ticket.
Romney and Ryan won both debates.
Ryan won despite Biden’s consistently rude/disrespectful behavior during the debate.
Biden’s tactics to evade issues/truth were disrespectful to Americans interested in facts, figures, forecasts, and solutions for real people with real problems.
Biden interrupted Ryan often, laughed often while Ryan was talking, and pointed his finger often.
Romney and Ryan won with substance, integrity, respect, clarity, facts, commitment, inspiration, and leadership. But these debates are NOT about who wins but rather about who is the best person in terms of qualifications/character to lead our country to solve problems and make life better for all Americans.
I am inspired by Romney/Ryan, and I hope that you are too!
Best regards,
Cas Lee

wow, if late October poll data is true, this article couldn't have been more wrong. nearly a month later and it looks like exactly what it is: whistling past the graveyard. what team obama should've been ready for was romney using the national spotlight, standing side by side with the president on the same stage, to recast himself as a peer of and reasonable alternative to obama.

I think chris matthews' response was appropriate. it wasn't just that the execrable romney came off well, it was that obama collapsed so thoroughly in front of millions of his supporters. a public humiliation of such proportion, it was like watching obama turn tail and run--leaving his supporters to champion the cause of a guy who couldn't be bothered to champion it himself. demoralizing. and effective in peeling off soft support that obama's two successive debate victories couldn't dent.

if obama loses, and I hope he doesn't, some of the blame will lay at his feet for providing mitt romney with the forum to bamboozle low information voters. to win, romney had to do this and obama should have seen it coming.

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