So I realize that I’m a little late with this blog but I’ve been overwhelmed with school this week. I have just managed to watch the debate, and it comes after I have heard several political news anchors and pundits describing what they called a huge victory for Governor Romney and a huge blunder by President Obama. Everyone from CNN to HuffPost to Bill Maher was saying that the president was defeated rather handily so I obviously began watching the debate with this in mind. What I found, however, was a little bit different.
I will say, as far as who performed better in the debate, outside of the fact checkers and psychological evaluations of the candidates, Mitt Romney gained the upper hand. He actually had a huge advantage in the debate, in that he’s been through 22 debates this year alone and all he has to do is prepare. He doesn’t have a real job to do every day like the incumbent does. President Obama on the other hand, hasn’t had a debate with anyone since 2008. He was obviously going to look a little rusty. But this is no excuse. He clearly just had a bit of an off-night. But I think several factors played into that as well, with some of them being calculated by the President before the debate began.
First off, you could tell from the beginning that the President was going to play it safe. I’ve been saying this since before the debate season began, that he has virtually nothing to gain, and a lot to lose with the debates. Therefore, we didn’t see the President go on the offensive as much as many on the left had hoped for. Mitt Romney left the door wide over dozens of times for the President to go after him and call him out on his horrible ideas, one being eliminating subsidies for PBS (which is 1/100th of 1% of the federal budget) to pay for the tax reductions he’s been campaigning on. Also, the President didn’t want to really attack him because he wanted to try to remain his calm and collected self, which he does so well. Don’t be surprised at all to see SuperPACs and campaign ads going after Romney’s debate holes.
The second thing that caused President Obama’s bit of stuttering through the debate was his opponent. He came into the debate ready to go up against the Mitt Romney that moved to the far right of the Republican Party and adopted the radical views that are often necessary to win the nomination. Now that he’s got it, he’s begun to move back to the center and has turned into the old moderate Romney that the GOP used to hate. During this debate he said he wasn’t going to give tax breaks to billionaires (saying they were doing fine in this economy and would no matter who was president), said he wasn’t going to make any cuts to education or Pell grants (despite calling for a reduction in Pell grants before and saying that having more teachers and lowering the student/teacher ratio leads to better education experiences for students was a myth created by teacher’s unions). He also said that regulations were necessary (and he would keep some in place) while calling for the repeal of Dodd-Frank; he also said that Obamacare was bad, but was keeping most of the provisions of it in his own plan (staying on parent’s plans until 26 for children, covering pre-existing conditions, etc.). The Mitt Romney on the campaign trail has been adamantly AGAINST all of this. The President went into this debate expecting the Romney on the campaign trail, but got this new moderate Romney and has a bit taken back by it. The interesting thing will be to see how many on the far right begin calling him a sell-out if he continues to drop some of these promises he fought for.
Another reason President Obama didn’t come out on top in this debate is because he almost implemented a Muhammad Ali philosophy. He kind of sat back and allowed Romney to land blow after blow, just waiting for him to slip up. If you’ve followed the race it’s easy to understand why it’s a pretty safe bet that Mitt Romney will shoot himself in the foot during a debate; he’s done it plenty of times already. However, he didn’t do it in this debate. He came out, set the pace, and went on the offensive and didn’t make any major gaffes. Kudos to him for doing so.
Finally, the debate, for President Obama was more about getting his message out than it was debating Mitt Romney. In the beginning, he was consistently pushing his ideas and record rather than staying on the debate topic. It wasn’t until a little later in the debate that you saw him really engaging Governor Romney and directly answering questions.
I felt like the debate ended up being one that was actually issue-oriented for once, even if many of the answers given by the candidates were totally false. It was a debate that featured what is arguably Governor Romney’s strongest field of expertise, the economy, and President Obama’s weakest. It would have been a major upset if Governor Romney didn’t win. However, what still managed to hurt Romney is that while he may have won the debate, it wasn’t enough. He really needed the President to lose the debate. Some may not follow what I’m saying so allow me to elaborate. If you watched the debate, name a gaffe that President Obama made, quick! You can’t think of any major things that stand out. Mitt Romney needed the President to falter and really appear to be weak on the economic issue to swing the vote, and that didn’t happen.
Going into the debate, there was a huge gap (despite what the numbers the media puts out to keep their ratings up, tells you) between the President and the challenger. What the debate ultimately did was stop the gains that President Obama had been making and maybe sway a few undecided voters to the Romney camp. It didn’t do anything to make any major swings of voters which is exactly what President Obama should be happy about. I wrote a blog a few weeks ago where I said I believed that Mitt Romney had a chance to win the popular vote. I think with this debate performance, that’s a even more likely possibility now (but I still don’t fully expect it to happen unless he pulls off two more debates like this). However, in the end, it was a bit of a weak debate in that it really didn’t do anything at all to budge the Electoral College, which is what will decide the election, and it still remains heavily in favor of President Obama.
So in closing, congratulations to Governor Romney for winning this debate. Congratulations to President Obama for remaining the cool, calm, and collected man after being hit with a total flip-flop campaign from your opponent. This leads to what should be an interesting VP debate in a week. Romney has begun to move back to a more moderate view, pulling in a few of the independent Republicans who were against the far-right movement of the GOP. However, if Paul Ryan comes out next week and stays in that far right, radical Republican ideological ground, then the base is going to be confused and unsure which way their party is going. It’s going to be important for Ryan to move to a more moderate view if the GOP wants ANY shot at winning this election. A move that, I will gladly say as a Democrat, is a welcome change for all Americans.