The Campaign Spot

B.O., K-O-ed.

We knew Mitt Romney would be prepared — his campaign has had him doing only one rally per day most days, spending hours and hours on debate prep. From watching the primaries, we knew Romney would come out and be aggressive and generally look good, but we have also seen Romney be stiff, or awkward, or turn to the moderator when attacked. Not tonight.

The “zingers” line appeared to be a bit of chaff; Romney did offer a few good lines — “You don’t pick the winners and losers, you just pick the losers,” “trickle-down government” — but he never seemed to force them or shoehorn them into lines. (George H. W. Bush declaring, “that last answer was about as clear as Boston Harbor” struck me as the gold standard for a forced zinger.) Instead, Romney looked like he had done this before. Maybe he practiced with Rob Portman so much, he felt like he had. He was prepared on every Obama attack, showed that he could maneuver Obama into talking about his preferred topics — how much time did Obama spend on IPAB? How much time did Obama spend making implausible claims he’s going to get to reducing the deficit really soon? — and demonstrated that he knew these issues, in detail, backwards and forwards.

Early on, Obama said, “I want to talk about the values behind Social Security” — and it was revealing that Obama wanted the topic to be on the warm and fuzzy feelings about the subject, instead of the numbers, the long-term solvency, the details of the reform proposals. He looked like a student who hadn’t done the readings and who wanted desperately to steer it towards a previous chapter.

Most of what the Obama fans thought was most devastating — the 47 percent, Bain Capital, Romney’s tax returns — never made an appearance. Perhaps it’s easier to run ads on these topics, laying out your opponent’s greed, cruelty, and callousness, than it is to repeat the same attacks, from your own mouth, with the target right in front of you.

It’s tough to find an exchange where Romney clearly lost, whereas Obama let out the “You may want to move on to another topic, Jim” early on while discussing the economy. It was an early white flag, and if viewers lost interest as the night wore on, it is likely to be one of the more surprising moments.

Did Obama get enough sleep last night? He seemed really, really off his game. A lot of 2008 Democratic primary debates seemed to end with solid wins for Hillary, but the hope-and-change atmospherics of his campaign carried him through any subpar debate performances. He can’t count on that this time around. Perhaps it’s that he’s less energetic than he was four years ago, perhaps he needs sleep, perhaps he dramatically underestimated Romney as an opponent. John King just summed up, “It seemed like Obama didn’t want to debate Romney.” He didn’t seem to want to be there, that was clear.

Or perhaps he was convinced he was ready for this debate, as he was convinced he was ready for the presidency.

Either way, the dynamic of the race shifted tonight. If the audience tonight was small, and only some of the remaining undecideds or persuadable voters tuned in, it shifted a little. If the audience was large, and the viewers watching were open to Romney, the dynamic may have shifted a great deal tonight.

Most Popular


It’s Time for Colin Kaepernick to Move On

Colin Kaepernick. Remember him? Below-average quarterback. Above-average poseur. Not “activist,” not really. Activists actually say stuff. Kaepernick almost never says anything. He’s like the Queen or most popes — you have to read the deep-background musings of supposed members of his inner circle to get ... Read More

What The 1619 Project Leaves Out

“The goal of The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New York Times that this issue of the magazine inaugurates, is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year,” The New York Times Magazine editors declare. “Doing so requires us to place ... Read More

Trump and the Black Vote

"Donald Trump is a racist, white supremacist, white nationalist. So are his supporters." Some version of that refrain is heard almost hourly somewhere in mainstream media. Democratic politicians seem to proclaim it more often than that. Listening only to the Left, you'd conclude that more than half a ... Read More
PC Culture

Courage Is the Cure for Political Correctness

This might come as some surprise to observers of our campus culture wars, but there was a time, not long ago, when the situation in American higher education was much worse. There a wave of vicious campus activism aimed at silencing heterodox speakers, and it was typically empowered by a comprehensive regime of ... Read More

The Age of Miscalculation

On August 7, 1998, more than 200 people were killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. Americans learned three names most of them never had heard before: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda. On August 20, 1998, President Bill Clinton ordered a ... Read More