On Monday night, Mitt Romney wrapped up a very successful debate season. Media narratives aside, it's obvious now that the Republican ticket had an incredibly good series of debates against the Democrat incumbents.
Romney undoubtedly won the first debate, staring down and picking apart an unenthusiastic Obama. Next came the vice presidential debate, which we saw a calm Paul Ryan against a smiling and cackling Joe Biden. Ryan didn't land any knockout punches, but he didn't have to. Biden's laughter and clownish appearance ended up hurting him more than Ryan ever could have. After the debate, Biden's likeability plummeted.
The second presidential debate saw a much stronger Obama against a still-formidable Romney. Many pundits say that Obama won that debate, although in hindsight it seems like he received credit for showing up alert than for scoring huge hits. Some polls later in the week showed that Obama did not win that debate. Romney's momentum continued, and that means that Obama did not do what he set out to do.
Monday brought the final debate in Boca Raton, Florida, during which Romney adhered to an old tactic used by boxers for years. When you're ahead on points, there is no shame in dancing around the ring for the last round. All Romney had to do was look presidential and not make any big gaffes. That's what he did, and that's why he won. Obama by comparison was combative, and snickering. He preferred to attack Romney rather than rise above as a president should. As Romney so eloquently stated, "Attacking me is not an agenda."
If someone was transported from the past and saw these two for the first time, they could have easily confused Romney for the incumbent and Obama for the struggling challenger. Romney looked presidential, and in doing so may have done exactly what he needed to keep his momentum going.
If you're ahead overall, you don't take the bait. Rather than picking up Libya and clubbing Obama over the head with it, Romney stayed on message. While this may at first appear disappointing to conservatives and cowardly to liberals, there's method to his madness. Throughout the entire 90-minute debate, Romney evaded Obama's attempts to paint him as a reckless warmonger. Romney made sure to mention Obama policies he happened to agree with, so that he would not come off as being disagreeable for the sake of being disagreeable. He came across as strong without looking like a bomb thrower.
The reason that Romney has gotten this far is in part by knowing when to throw and punch, and when to look presidential taking one. Obama smirked and shifted in his seat. Romney channeled Reagan.
Weeks from now, people may look back at the two candidates closing statements on Monday as the final nail in the coffin for President Obama. Obama's hands swished, while he could barely manage to crack a smile. His tone was borderline-condescending. One could even call it desperate. Looking at him speak, one could tell that he knew he was still losing ground.
Romney's closing statement was conservative gold. It was filled with all of the rhetoric that makes liberals' heads explode and makes conservatives and patriotic independents smile. Romney played to his audience and to those he needed to win over. He also played to his strengths. Even though this was a foreign policy debate, Romney continually brought up the economy, to remind people just how little improvement has been made over the past four years.
Some people expected him to simply paraphrase Ronald Reagan's closing statement during his debate with President Carter, when he asked "Are you better off?" Instead, we got the 21st century equivalent to Reagan calling America a "shining city on a hill."
If the insta-polls are any indication, Romney may have pulled off a hat trick with those he needed to. First, let's start with the outlier of the evening, the CBS insta-poll. This poll showed Obama winning decisively, 52% to 23%, with 24% saying it was a tie. This was the only poll of the evening giving an edge to Obama so clearly.
Despite that, Romney ended up winning the CBS focus group in Ohio.
Shortly after the debate ended, CNN's insta-poll showed Obama winning, 48% to 40%. 25% of participants said that they would be more likely to vote for Romney, while just 24% said they felt the same about Obama. Obama's likeability during this debate took a nosedive.
The PPP insta-poll showed an immense tilt with independents. When it came to feeling more/less likely to support a candidate after the debate, Obama came across with 32 more and 48 less. Romney's numbers? 47 more, 35 less. Odds are that Romney's lead with independent voters will continue to grow.
Everyone knows that insta-polls are snapshots of snapshots. However, there are a few big polls that show how Obama entered this debate on shaky ground. Rasmussen today came out with a poll that showed Romney beating Obama, 50% to 46% among likely voters. Rasmussen also released a swing state poll that shows Romney beating Obama, 50% to 45%. Gallup shows Romney beating Obama 51% to 45%. The Reuters/Ipsos Tracking Poll that Obama had been leading solidly in for weeks now shows that Romney has closed the gap. Obama leads Romney in that poll, 45% to 42%.
Real Clear Politics still has Romney ahead in an average of all the polls, 47.9% to 47.2%. Obama cannot afford to be under 50% at this point. When it comes to Obama's once insurmountable lead with personal favorability and in the Electoral College? Romney is doing quite well there also!
Obama was tougher during this debate, but he may have lost the election. For the past three debates, the Democrats have not been able to stop the Republican ticket from gaining steam. When a challenger is building momentum, scoring a debate on points doesn't matter. You have to sway the public, and Obama wasn't able to do that on Monday. Romney's momentum will most likely continue, and Obama will probably keep losing more ground.