Mitt Romney completely outclassed Barack Obama in the first debate and changed the course of the campaign. In the vice-presidential debate, Joe Biden’s rudeness and uncivil demeanor — and strange smile for the spotlight — threw away any slight bullied advantage that his bluster gained against Ryan’s matter-of-fact truth telling. In the second presidential debate, Romney did well enough to fend off an animated Obama, a partisan moderator, and a pseudo-town-hall format that was stacked against him.
By now there is a clear pattern in the three debates: The Democratic candidates are running as if they are not incumbents and talk vaguely about what they might like to do rather than concretely about they have actually done the last four years — often as faux conservatives in touting tax cuts and more drilling. They more often speak, interrupt, and gesticulate, and the moderators are far more accommodating toward them — while Romney and Ryan have the greater recall of facts and present the more systematic argumentation in the face of guffaws, snarls, and meandering emoting.The radically shifting polls reflect that reality: Voters seem not so interested in tit-for-tat score-keeping as much as which candidates seem the more reliable, civil, informed, and trustworthy.
In the final debate, Romney will know in advance that the moderator will be biased, that Obama will get more time, that Obama will snicker and interrupt, that Obama will go negative early and long — and that Romney himself has the proven disposition, skill, and information to fend the tag team off, and resonate with voters who are getting ever more savvy after each debate to what is going on. Some sympathetic Romney supporters had been critical of missed opportunities in the vice-presidential debate and the second presidential one, but the wondrous part is not that their missing an opening now and then, but instead how well they have done against the moderators, the distractions, and the rawness. To paraphrase Wellington at Waterloo, I think by now we know that Obama will come on in the same old way, and that Romney will send him back in the same old way — and the polls will show it.