What made the first presidential debate so shocking—and what sent liberals into complete panic—was the fact that, for the first time in four years, President Obama had to face an equal—and he didn’t seem to know how to respond. He looked less like the president, and more like another politician, who might not be ready for another four years on the job.
Ahead of tonight’s town hall debate, the Obama campaign has released a direct-to-camera video featuring Bill Clinton, who—as president—thrived in town hall-style environments. The video, which is meant to clarify the issues around Mitt Romney’s tax plan, is a partial restatement of Clinton’s acclaimed speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Writing for CNN, Peter Hamby reports that Team Romney will move to deficit and debt as its theme for this week. Part of that includes a set of talking points on how President Obama has added trillions to the debt, and will add trillions more if he isn’t removed from office. To wit:
President Obama has racked up more than $5.5 trillion in debt over the past four years, putting our national debt above $16 trillion—and in a second term he’ll let it climb to $20 trillion.
He also broke his promise to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term, instead presiding over four straight trillion-dollar deficits.
Since August, when Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, the two campaigns have fought a fierce battle over who is the most stalwart protector of Medicare. In the first presidential debate, Romney assailed President Obama for his $716 billion in Medicare cuts, and Ryan did the same in last week’s vice presidential face-off. Likewise, the Obama campaign has hit Team Romney for the Ryan plan and its Medicare “premium support”—which, if implemented, would gradually replace traditional Medicare with subsidized, regulated private insurance.
“This is like the Avengers, when the Hulk grabbed Loki and smashed him on the floor.”
I watched this debate in Chesapeake, Virginia, with a group of local Democrats, and it’s fair to say that they were excited by Vice President Biden’s performance in tonight’s debate. They cheered his jabs—“This is malarkey”—and cheered when he directly attacked Paul Ryan for his rhetoric.
In other words, if Biden’s job was to cover for President Obama and rebuild Democratic enthusiasm, then he accomplished it with flying colors. From foreign policy to Medicare to taxes and national security, Biden defended the administration’s policies and offered a strong retort to claims from Paul Ryan and the Romney campaign.
If there’s any one issue that is emblematic of Mitt Romney’s core malleability, it’s abortion. Over the last 16 years, Romney has called himself “unequivocablly pro-choice,” pro-life (but unwilling to change the status quo), “delighted” to sign a national abortion ban, eager to extend the 14th Amendment to unborn children, and willing to turn abortion over to the states. Yesterday, Romney made another transformation: In an interview, he told the Des Moines Register, “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”
The least interesting part of the latest Gallup poll is the fact that it shows Mitt Romney with a 2-point lead over President Obama among likely voters, 49 percent to 47 percent. Given the extent to which Gallup has shown a close race through most of the year, this was expected. What’s more interesting is the evidence, buried in the article, that Romney’s post-debate bounce was short-lived and is subsiding. Here’s the full range of post-debate polls among registered voters:
For my part, the most incredible exchange of the first presidential debate came in the first 20 minutes, when President Obama hit Mitt Romney on his tax plan—which would implement across-the-board cuts to marginal rates—and the Republican nominee responded by denying its existence. Romney insisted that his plan would not cut upper-income taxes (it calls for a 20 percent reduction) and, in fact, would end breaks for upper-income taxpayers (he has yet to give any detail on this score).
The Pew Research Center has near-impeccable credentials with its polls, which is why yesterday’s—which showed Mitt Romney ahead by four points among likely voters—inspired mass panic among supporters of President Obama. Andrew Sullivan was at the forefront of the freakout. In a post titled “Did Obama just throw the election away?”, he excoriated Obama’s lackluster debate performance:
In an attempt to build his post-debate momentum, Mitt Romney gave a speech on foreign policy this morning. The overall consensus is that it was a whole lot of nothing new: Writing at Foreign Policy, Daniel Drezner notes that there is “almost no new policy content” in the speech. Indeed, it was mostly the usual laundry list of complaints against President Obama for lacking “resolve,” while Romney pledged to pursue the same policies that have defined the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy.
This weekend, the questions for everyone tracking the election was straightforward: Has Mitt Romney received a bounce in the polls on the strength of his debate performance? And has it turned the race into a toss-up? The national pollsters have yet to release their live-interviewer surveys from the last several days, but swing-state polls show signs of improvement for the former Massachusetts governor.
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.
If you were feeling generous, you could call Monday the beginning of Mitt Romney’s “comeback.” Not only has he gained ground in national polls—he's pulled within 2 points of Obama in the latest survey from ABC News and the Washington Post—but there’s been positive movement in several swing states. Gravis Marketing now has Florida as a toss-up, and Public Policy Polling shows a tie in North Carolina, echoing the close race of 2008.