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

I have to say, I'm mystified as to why everyone on MSNBC was freaking out so completely. Thurston didn't seem "presidential" he seemed bullying, manic and creepy. Obama seemed tired. Neither were great.

The only difference is Republicans claim victory and dance all over it---and we accept it. Please, it isn't like we lost the election---we only lost the debate because it was largely a draw. If the situation were reversed, the Puggies would claim victory, anyway. Just as they have as Mittens trails miserably in the polls.

Maybe we should adapt such a position

I agree. I didn't think Mitt looked comfortable. He looked agitated, antsy, testy, nasty, overly aggressive... and if the viewer knew anything about the issues, it was clear he was lying. It is times like this I despise the media because they actually determine what people will think by saying it was so. Time will tell. I do agree that the debate outcome won't determine the election. There are weeks ahead and additional debates. We know Ryan will lie in his debate performance as well. Biden should be prepared for that. Romney does not look in command to me. He walks as if he has a corn cob up his you-know-what. He makes quick, little 'girly' steps rather than the confident strides of President Obama. I think if we asked who seemed more 'Presidential' this evening, it was hands down Obama.

You are the only one who thought Romney didn't look comfortable...the majority of the 58 million that watched thought he looked presidential. That's not good new s for the left...not good news at all.

I really thought that Romney appeared to be a bully. Interrupting the moderator as well as lthe president. He was just too aggressive.

Yes. Romney looks comfortable when he lies. He even gets excited about it. Great quality, no? Give people a week or two to sort out that virtually every important statement he made was false and let's see whch way the polls move ...

Agreed. I began to think that Romney was going to endorse same-sex marriage before the evening was over - he was flipping and flopping from all his other platforms.

The real loser was Jim Lehrer. He lost control of the debate. Willard did not win. He performed well by lying. Obama did not win, trying to hard not to be the angry black man. Now, do you really think Obama will let Willard slide next time? Ugg thinking he'll be ready and waiting for the angry pink man.

The real loser was Jim Lehrer. He lost control of the debate. Willard did not win. He performed well by lying. Obama did not win, trying too hard not to be the angry black man. Now, do you really think Obama will let Willard slide next time? Ugg thinking he'll be ready and waiting for the angry pink man.

LOL! CNN flash poll - 67% Gov Romney won! 25% Obama won! That is what you called a landslide. Assuming Obama has 48% of the Country supporting him right now that means 23% of his supporters either think Gov Romney won or that it was a tie. On the other hand assume from the polls that 46% of the country support Romney. That means 21% of Ameicans who either support Obama or are undecided thought Romney won. That's what you call a total complete blowout, and CNN surveyed registered voters, not Republicans. Republicans declared victory because 67% of the American people said Romney won, along with Bill Maher, and everyone over an Obama's reelection network NBC/MSNBC. CBS did a poll out found the same thing. 58 million American watched a very Presidential Gov Romney, and an Empty chair, in over hid head Obama. You are right though....Gov Romney just won the debate...overwhelmingly! The election is Nov 6. I won't see you at the polls folks....I've already voted absentee....for Gov Romney!

Yes he won the debate, unfortunately he repeated what we all know already, he believes in trickle down economics and has no problem changing his position on other things to appeal the a broader base. We still don't know who we will be electing.

Something seems wrong with your analysis. Probably something to do with the miserable results he got from his policies after four years. It might be that people see through the empty utopian promises of Obama.

Elmo had to increase his dose of anti-depressants.

LONG LIVE DEMOCRACY! - YouTube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvTIphPnDM8

I think the Kerry example is more relevant than you're making it out to be. Kerry trailed Bush by 6 points on RCP before the first debate; a few days later, the gap had narrowed to 1.5 points. Bush made up some of that lost ground later, but the race never returned to anywhere near pre-debate levels, and electorally at least, the outcome was phenomenally close, depending on a 100,000-vote difference in Ohio.

Obama's lead in RCP is much narrower than Bush's was back then (3 points as opposed to 6 points), and therefore if Romney's debate performance has the same level of impact as Kerry's apparently did, it could cause him to win the race.

This whole argument that debates "don't matter" seems rooted in the fallacy that the only meaningful insight you can get from elections comes from seeing who won and lost in the end. The fact that Bush won the 2004 election (with a narrower popular-vote margin than any other incumbent in history) doesn't prove that Kerry's big gains after the first debate were irrelevant. They may not have changed the race's ultimate outcome, but they did make it less of a foregone conclusion, and if Bush had been leading by a much narrower margin before the debate (as Obama is now), it could well have made the difference between winning and losing.

Kerry was actually ahead of Bush for most of the summer, and then Bush skyrocketed after the GOP convention and the Swift Boat adds. Just as plausible to say that the race narrowed back to a regression of the mean to the previous trendline than it is to attribute it all to the debates. There's a pretty long precedent of the challenger "winning" at the very least the first debate against an incumbant, and it not really mattering in the long run. Mondale ran circles around a tired and lethargic Reagan in their first debate, prompting so much speculation that Reagan was too old and feeble for a 2nd term that he came up with his infamous "I won't exploit my opponent's youth and inexperience" line for the 2nd debate. Dole was the consensus winner in the 1996 with a prevent defense strategy, while Dole went on attack as the guy behind in the polls. I think what history tends to show is that ultimately the debates provide short term bounces, but ultimately go back to the the pre-existing long term trendlines by the election.

Inman, you may in the end, be correct that this debate win will only be a short-term bounce for Romney. However, let's look at the calendar for a second. No doubt that Thurston (as someone else posted as a moniker for Romney, though it is more appropriate for Kerry, but I digress...) will get his bounce from this as 58 million people saw that he was not who he was painted to be for past 6 months and $300,000,000 worth of TV ads by the Obama campaign.

Secondly, you have the VP debate next week. Biden? Seriously? Ryan is no slouch and Biden is a complete dope (validated to me by a Secret Service agent once assigned to his detail. Complete idiot. Jill, on the other hand, is kind, sweet and sharp as a tack. Opposites attract??) Anyway, I dare to assume that once Ryan disassembles Biden the bounce will be maintained perhaps longer than is historically normal.

Thirdly, second Presidential debate will tell the tale. If Obama sucks again it's over. If he can string a couple of sentences together for once without his teleprompter he's got a chance of making this close.

Lastly, you seem informed so you are aware of the oversampling of Dems in recent polling showing the race close. Even oversampling Dems by +7 shows the race at 1 or 2 points so something is a bit off there as Repubs are NOT going to vote for Obama and Romney leads Indies. So, you are probably also aware that polling companies are providing their numbers while getting a whopping 9% response rate. Just sayin' that the current state of the horse race doesn't seem to make logical sense. Obama is in trouble.

Understanding the true effect of the debate probably requires removing everything you know about policy, political philosophy, and most actual facts. Voters in the middle seem to have little interest in any of that. I think Romney's performance was appealing in that he seemed level-headed, passionate about his alternative to Obama, and smart. I think all the policy stuff is irrelevant to swing voters, who likely are going to go with who "felt" better. On this measure, Romney came off as a fresh challenge to Obama, who looked tired and weakened by what these voters might just view as his failures.

Romney lied. And people know he lied.

Democrats calling others liars is a dope fiend move. They are the party of perpetual fraud. They are the party who fight in every state in hopes that their 85% felon support base is given the right to vote democrat from their prison cells. Wellstone is a democrat loser hack.

Obama debated. Romney lied. Romney lied about pre-existing conditions and healthcare. Romney lied about Medicare. Romney lied about tax cuts. Romney lied about the federal debt. Romney lied about green energy. To claim Romney "won" is absurd -- he was a snake-oil salesman peddling sham medicine off the back of a wagon. That is not "winning."

No wonder you are for Obama, you don't know anything.

No wonder you are for Romney. You are an a-hole.

And you are delusional.

Hey Wellstone, stay classy. If you voted for Obama in 2008 to prove you aren't a racist, vote for Romney in 2012 to prove you aren't a complete idiot. You too Wellstone.

+1

Seriously Dave, unless you get all your information from MSDNC, you have to know that the two candidates equally streched the truth, some say BO more than Romney. You really need to do some of your own research and not trust just Schultz and Maddow.

I am happy.
You guys really think this won't matter?

Please continue...

I can't think a single Obama voter did not hate RobbedMe more after the debate. I am even MORE motovated to make sure RObbedme does not get elected. Does that matter?

You libs are delusional - Obama got his ass THOROUGHLY kicked last night. I love it - Obama can't counter Romney in a face-to-face debate, so today he steps up the personal attacks. Obviously, after last night, that's ALL Obama and company have left in their arsenal. Talk about an intellectually vacant FRAUD of a President. Can't wait 'til Nov 6th when BO goes home to Chicago and all you libs get closer to offing yourselves because the American people are smart enough to vote out a completely empty suit. Great day to be a conservative!

Enjoy yourself while you can.

"Romney wins and it won't matter."

You wish!

i have been on many Liberal & MSM web sites and the buzz word today is BULLY. Probably coming directly from the Obama campaign.

I wonder how long we'll have to wait before the lamestream news media play the race card......again. "Romney beat up on Obama because he's black." I see it coming!

I think the big surprise is a needless one. That is, that Mitt Romney isn't the person the media portrays him being! They're in the tank for Obama, they shelter him by avoiding his flaws and failures in office to make sure people in the United States don't know how bad his record is. Instead they make up bad stuff about Romney and invent 'gaffes' which, if taken in proper context, make perfect sense. For which context you must turn to conservative media because you sure won't find it in the news.

Read both sides for balanced coverage because it doesn't exist in one place and both sides leave stuff out. How can you make an informed opinion on any topic if you rely on only one point of view? You can't. Thanks for listening.
www.conservativemormonmom.blogspot.com

"Romney Wins ... and It Won't Matter" Is that what you tell yourself, Jamelle, to make the voices stop? Don't let the voices win. You can still help the President get reelected. Keep putting your delusions to paper, and you will be rewarded with another four years of malaise!

The only new thing I learned about Mr. Romney by 10:30 that i didn't know before 9:00 was that he wants to do away with Sesame Street - if the president hadn't been asleep at the wheel that would be the top topic of the day. While the Prez wasn't glittering, he did his usual nose to the grindstone, POLYSCI 101 lecture that I thought had definitely won the day on substance as Mr. Romney was all glass and mirrors. I was truly surprised that the media jumped all over him - truth will out and in the long run the O-campaign will have plenty of fodder for their continuing mini-series of now & then truth-telling moments.

Gov Romney doesn't want to do away with Sesame Street or Big Bird at all. He just thinks that hard working U.S. taxpayers should not have to pay for Sesame street and Big Bird at time when Obama has given us the worst UNEMPLOYMENT since the Great Depression, and More DEBT than in all of history. Gov Romney likes Big Bird and he'll probably send PBS a check to keep Big Bird on the air. And the rest of the folks who like Big Bird can do the same thing and Sesame Street will live forever. Money that the Government takes from Taxpayers should go to pay for roads, bridges, Social Security, Medicare, Foodstamps for those that need them, UNEMPLOYMENT benefits, security etc. People who watch Sesame Street and Big Bird can send their donations to PBS and keep on enjoying their program. A nation that borrows over $1 trillion dollars a year cannot afford to continue to borrow money to pay for Big Bird! Get a clue!

I agree - all the damn episodes are on DVD anyway. How many different ways do we need to learn how to say A-B-C's anyway?

This from a party that doesn't believe in evolution. And is proud of it!

Oh, that's how Romney is going to fix the economy. Getting rid of Big Bird! Thank you so much for clarifying that for us. Those darn little "moochers". Did Romney have the flu? He looked awful!

PBS can get by with donations...that is unless the Left taxes the shit out of everyone and leaves nothing behind for charitable activities.

Media's interest is in building RobbedMe up so that they have something to talk about. 12-1 ballgames are really tough to do play-by=play.

LOL! Last night 58 million Americans were treated to a very Presidential Gov Romney routing, in the biggest blowout in Presidential Debate history, an Empty Chair President who couldn't explain the failure of his nearly 4 year Presidency, or give any of us even a tiny hint as to how he might make anything better! Now the left is in a frenzy to hide, excuse, or ignore the kind of performance that shows that Obama is in completely over his head. Poor Jim Lerher. First they accused him of letting Romney run over. Timing everything though shows that he let Obama run over more than Gov Romney. Now it just seems that the left thinks he should have just done something, anything, to save Obama from his clueless performance. Mr Lerher ran a great debate. The left needs to place the blame squarely on their Empty Chair President, and stop whining! By the way 58 million American now know that Gov Romney should be the next President of the U.S. Obama's blown it folks....get used to "President Romney"!!!!

Vote, vote vote....for Romney!

Those 58 million Americans already had their minds made up. Republicans have divided this country so much there isn't such a thing as an independent voter. We were just watching for sport. Actually let me correct this statement. Independent voters are republicans that are ashamed of the Bush years and went underground and re appeared as "independent".

Funny thing Val... As much much of an a$$ kicking as was issued to the incompetent and chief last eve, it would be asking too much to assume liberals would not still be stupid today. Sure enough... they are.

I love when so called journalists or even columnists call someone a liar without even one example to support such an accusation. Must have gone to the sycophantic school of journalism....The New York Times awaits your arrival..

RobbedMe lied 27 times in 38 minutes. Look it up.

I love checking these lefty sites after your messiah gets his ass handed to him. Romney crushed the empty suit because Obama is rudderless without a teleprompter, and you say it doesn't matter. As if you would have said the same thing if Romney had lost as soundly as BO. Tell the undecideds that this debate didn't matter.

I wonder if Kerry kicked Hussein's ass as bad as Romney did in he lead up to Denver?

Romney was lying through his teeth and pretended to the "moderate Mitt of Massachusetts." He didn't change many minds.

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