Romney probably didn’t win by as much as it felt like he did, but he definitely won by not losing. Both campaigns spent the last week lowering expectations. Romney’s campaign wins the dubious honor of having lowered expectations better, but he also won the legitimate honor of having over-delivered more.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Obama was that bad. The problem for Obama was that he roughly hit expectations. Romney vastly exceeded them.
A couple of the Romney “zingers” much derided on the Internet actually stung. “Trickle down government.” “The economy tax.” “Look at the evidence of the last four years.” “I’ve been in business for 15 years. I have no idea what you’re talking about.” “I love Big Bird.” (Okay, just kidding about that one.) The best substantive zinger was Romney pointing out that the oil subsidies the president is always droning on about gave just over $2 billion away, while the green-energy subsidies the president is always on about gave over $90 billion away. Government isn’t just picking winners and losers, Romney added, it’s only picking the losers!
Romney expertly walked a fine line between saying things that will excite the Republican base and saying things that will woo swing voters. He cut through the image of him as an unthinking, out-of-touch plutocrat and got personal, telling stories about voters he’s met on the trail. He was both extraordinarily well prepared with numbers and naturally at ease in the format. He surprised me.
By contrast, Obama shrugged, looked down, ummed and ahhed, and most notably, appealed to the moderator when things got rough. (“Jim, you may want to move on to another topic.”) Romney was clearly much better prepared, both tonally and with policy specifics, than the Obama camp counted on. Obama was never really seriously rattled, but he looked like he thought he could win by running down the clock. He couldn’t.
Mike Murphy just made a great point (no surprise) on Charlie Rose: Romney in the debate looked much better than the Romney campaign. Obama in the debate looked much worse than the Obama campaign. And to be sure, the Romney campaign will have to sieze on this moment and, hopefully, a couple of better polls, and force Americans to give him a second look. This wasn’t a “game changer”, but it might possibly have set the stage for a game changer.
MSNBC is melting down. The Left’s recriminations are coming at warp speed. The next debate could be an Obama blowout, for all we know, but for the moment, rejoice. This Romney guy is sounding like somebody you might actually vote for.