I’ve been getting more and more cautiously optimistic about Romney in the last few days and, going in, I had a pretty good feeling about tonight’s debate. But I had no expectation that Romney would simply control the night the way he did. I don’t think Obama did terribly on the merits, even though he clearly lost by a wide margin on points. But you don’t really score a debate like this on points. Romney simply dominated and deflated Obama. This was the first time millions of people ever heard Mitt Romney make a case for himself at any length. Most Americans didn’t watch the GOP debates. The ratings for Romney’s convention speech were sub-par and he never really talked about policy anyway at the convention. But tonight Romney brilliantly dismantled the straw man Obama has been running against for months. I think it was David Freddoso who said on Twitter that if all you knew about Romney was what you saw in Obama’s TV ads, you’d get the sense that Obama’s been lying to you all this time. Romney helped himself tonight — possibly a lot.
Still, it’s worth noting a certain irony about tonight. This is the first time since he picked Paul Ryan that a broad majority of conservatives are openly happy and encouraged by Romney (and there weren’t too many other such times). I certainly feel buoyed by his performance tonight. And yet, we should keep in mind that most of his effective moments came when he distanced himself from the base of his party and struck a decidedly moderate, centrist, position. Personally, given the stakes and the state of his campaign, that doesn’t bother me very much. But, once again, we can’t say we weren’t warned.