I was deeply engaged by the Kennedy–Nixon debates back in 1960, and I’ve tracked presidential debates since that time; but my sense is that, in that first hour at least, and on balance, Romney gave the best performance in a debate since Kennedy. And he might have exceeded even Kennedy in the burden he had to carry and the work he had to do.
Yes, there were moments when I wish he could have been just a bit sharper. And I most wince at his passing up the chance to point out that the financial crisis of 2008 was brought about by the policies of encouraging the real-estate boom by remarkably loose standards for loans; that the boom was fueled and stirred on by Fannie and Freddie; that the Bush administration had sought to bring them under control, but that those efforts were beaten back by the Democrats, aided by the new Senator Obama from Illinois. I wish that Romney could steal a line from the late British Tory politician Ian MacLeod and adapt it in this way: that talking about the financial crisis of 2008 without mention of the role played by Barack Obama and his friends is rather like . . . playing Hamlet without the gravediggers.
Romney was on his game — he was not to be pushed by Jim Lehrer; he was aggressive, sharp, and in command: One had the sense that, no matter what the subject, he could come back at Obama with figures that would be devastating. With the momentum that Romney gets from this performance, he has the drive now to fill in those gaps, to build on that performance with one even better. We have now, I think, a winner.