It is very hard to imagine how this debate could have gone better for Mitt Romney. He was totally in control of facts — as anticipated. But he also managed to frame his answers in larger philosophical constructs: mainly markets and competition. This is what the conservative pundit class has demanded, and Romney heard the message and responded. His personal style was astonishingly energetic and confident, aggressive but not angry, even warm and smart — at the top of his game. He made the quantum leap, as a candidate, to being presidential.
To be sure, one might quibble that, just as it is harder than it sounds to be bipartisan and principled, it is hard to cut deficits and be for everything everyone likes. Nevertheless…
Obama looked hesitant and tired. He looks ready to go home. He nitpicked and offered negative characterizations of Romney’s policies and statements, and he had nothing to say when Romney parried effectively and defined his ideas himself. When Romney said, “Of course I support education,” it was obviously true. This happened down the line, especially when he offered many-pointed plans to solve problems.
Romney went after Obama on the deficit effectively. “You said you would cut the deficit in half in four years.… You haven’t” (to paraphrase). That, in a nutshell, is the clincher: This is a central problem — and you failed. What went through my mind at that moment was (I kid you not), Clint saying “when someone can’t do the job, you have to let them go.”
And if body language means anything, Barack Obama was resigned to a loss from the start. He was not comfortable in his own skin. He looked like someone trying to make an argument for something that, in his heart, he knows is not working. Every now and then you hear rumors that the Obamas are scouting real estate in Hawaii for their next home. Mostly they seem like right-wing wishful thinking. Tonight it looked as if the rumors might be true.