Confession: I didn’t watch the debate on Wednesday night. My schedule unfortunately precluded it. What I did do was read the transcript the next day. What I experienced was probably much different from those who watched the performance live, but I do have some thoughts:
- Obama did not win. If we have to pick a champion here, it was definitely Romney.
- The reason I say this is because the debate allowed Mitt Romney to play to his strengths: business and the world of finance. We all know Obama is a competent person, but on Wednesday we were able to see that his opponent is too.
- If Mitt Romney can sell himself successfully as the “smart economic answer man,” he could yet win.
- Along these lines, I in general found whole discussion of issues and learned dialogue helpful. It may have been boring, but it was better than name-calling.
- There was definitely something funny going on with the moderator Jim Lehrer. He seemed to not have control of the debate, and/or was unwilling to just let it be the freeflowing conversation Obama and Romney apparently wanted to have.
- Obama did himself no favors repeating again and again the “trillions” claim against Romney’s tax cuts vs. expenditures plan. After Romney’s repeated denials Obama’s attacks seemed to border on prescripted and petulant talking points.
- Romney’s weakness will continue to be matters of specificity together with the issue of healthcare and questions about Medicare. On these issues the President definitely pressed his case (though certainly not forcefully enough on the matter of Romney’s specifics.)
Having won this one, Romney faces a big challenge in the next debate on domestic AND foreign policy (and the third debate that is slated to be wholly focused on foreign policy). It will be a chance for Obama to build on his international experience as president and try to make Romney look like George W. Bush. If Romney can withstand and thrive under these attacks, it may be a new day for his campaign. Yet even if he doesn’t win as he did on Wednesday, there are questions about how important it will be, for this election seems to be less focused on foreign issues than during any in the past ten years. We will see.