Debate Grades: Obama: C+, Romney: B+
Mitt Romney had to have a big night tonight, and there is no question that he effectively rose to the challenge. Over 90 minutes, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama traded jabs and outlined policy positions in the first of three presidential debates on Wednesday night. Romney’s delivery was polished, as he hammered a monotone and disinterested Obama throughout the debate.
While not an unmitigated disaster for the President, Obama’s performance will haunt him in the polls for the next few weeks. Romney came across as well put together, better polished, and better composed as he attacked the President’s record on the economy and jobs.
Obama came across muted and disinterested for the majority of the debate. His most genuine moment came in the first 30 seconds, when he wished wife Michelle Obama a happy 20th anniversary. After that, he seemed barely interested in participating and his body language spoke to a candidate who had little desire to be on stage.
Romney, on the other hand, had lots of fire and passion in answering questions and going after the President’s arguments and positions. Romney maintained his composure effectively through most of the debate, despite showing signs of frustration early. The President, on the other hand, utterly failed to do so as the cameras caught him shaking his head, smirking, and mouthing disagreement while Romney was speaking, presenting a very poor and unprofessional image to those watching at home.
That said, for all of Romney’s practiced delivery, the Republican candidate fell well short on something he needed to provide: specifics. Romney contradicted himself several times, both on his tax plan (claiming he wouldn’t raise taxes, while simultaneously claiming he would eliminate deductions) and his health care reform record (claiming his plan covered pre-existing conditions when, last week, he explicitly stated it didn’t). He also talked in circles, effectively dodging both Obama’s and moderator Jim Lehrer’s calls for details. However, Obama did not take advantage of Romney’s inconsistency, as the President fumbled attempts to call Romney on his contradictions and failed to back up his assertions.
Most interestingly, Obama failed to take shots at Romney over the 47% remark. While some might argue that he was playing a “gentleman’s game” and attempting to talk policy rather than take shots at Romney, it was surprising not to see Obama follow-up on the most salient talking point of the last month.
In the end, this debate was an example of Obama playing prevent defense from start to finish. The President didn’t come across as trying to win, but rather trying to play the middle and not screw up. Whether he was sand-bagging or just blowing the opportunity, we won’t know until the next debate, but his presentation and demeanor left much to be desired for liberals who were hoping the President would put the election away tonight.
Mitt Romney came out the undisputed victor tonight and I expect the polls to reflect that truth in short order. Team Obama is going to have to drag the President into some debate prep and reawaken Candidate Obama’s fire and passion before they let him back on stage if they hope to ensure a win in November.
For full play-by-play analysis and coverage of the debate in real time, see here.