Wait a minute: Wasn’t President Obama supposed to get a generous boost in the polls from his masterly comeback performance on Tuesday night? A counter-bounce to the one Romney got from Round One? If so, it’s been awfully slow in coming. The main polling headline in recent days sent Democrats right back into a depressive spiral: Gallup’s weekly tracking poll, out on Thursday, showed the Republican leading nationally by his biggest margin yet—seven points. The swing states remain much the same, with Obama clinging to narrow leads in most. So what gives?
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.
President Obama’s first challenge in tomorrow night’s town hall debate has been crystal clear ever since he allowed Mitt Romney to Etch A Sketch his way through their first encounter: Follow Joe Biden’s lead by calling out Romney on his inconsistencies and lies, while highlighting the radicalism of the Republicans’ real agenda. The Prospect’s Paul Waldman offers some sage advice: “He needs a single phrase that he will repeat every time he's refuting a Romney falsehood.
The most pressing question that Joe Biden faced, heading into Thursday night’s debate, was a tricky one: How do you handle an opponent who’s going to be lying his well-defined buttocks off for 90 minutes? The lack of a strategy for dealing with serial dishonesty had left President Obama dumbfounded in his first debate with Mitt Romney. He shouldn't have been taken aback: The Republican ticket-mates know perfectly well that being honest about their policies and platform would make it impossible for them to win a general election. You can’t advocate deficit-reduction and a $5 billion tax cut and a few extra billion in defense spending and be up front about what all that would actually mean—or whether it’s even mathematically possible.
Vice-presidential debates often make for better TV than the more sober presidential face-offs. (If you’re not convinced, take a look at the Prospect’s video compilation of the best moments from the VP debates.) There’s been nothing in a presidential debate to match the delightful absurdity of a candidate—in this case, Ross Perot’s addled running mate, Admiral James Stockdale—introducing himself to millions of viewers by posing the existential puzzler, “Why am I here?” There’s never been a slapdown in the main events to equal the iconic moment when Lloyd Bentsen punished Dan Quayle like a naughty schoolboy for likening himself to JFK.