President Obama was much better than last time, not surprisingly. He got in all the expected hits on Romney, and at times threw out more things at once than Romney could plausibly respond to, unless he wanted to spend the entirety of his time in rebuttal mode. Romney, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as good two weeks ago. I think he’s at his weakest as a performer when he gets a little too worked up and shows too much concern with the rules. He did both tonight. He also said “I know what it takes to grow the economy” much too much for my taste — a line I don’t find very convincing since it’s based on biographical assertion. Finally, I understand his instinct to try to nail the president with killer questions, but it sometimes came off as badgering and contributed to his tripping up on Libya. All that said, it was a solid performance overall and occasionally excellent. He was strong on energy at the beginning and superb in an answer toward the end encapsulating Obama’s false promises. The question about how he’s different from Bush was a gift, and he mostly took advantage of it. The big take-away from the debates so far — and the problem President Obama has — is that Mitt Romney has established himself as a plausible alternative with a plausible plan. Absent some terrible gaffe in the next debate, it’s hard to see how that bell is going be un-rung.