It’s a premise that’s been purposely peddled in punditry in an effort to build suspense for the first of three debates between the Republican presidential challenger and President Barack Obama. It makes more sense to promote the presidential debate like it’s “Wrestlemania” versus what it is: an interesting but not traditionally race-altering reality.
Surrogates like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have played their parts, too, boasting that “Wednesday night’s the restart of this campaign.” On the Obama end, White House senior adviser David Plouffe noted on Sunday that Romney would show up “prepared” and that he’s a “very good debater.” Not to be outdone, ex-Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, alleged that Romney would be declared the winner no matter what by the media in order to keep their own interests high.
So what actually happened? Is the race just now really beginning? Did the stoic, detail-deprived, wishy-washy Romney magically become a charming, policy-spewing debate champ?
Romney’s still not funny, he’s even less charming, and he continues to speak in a bunch of evasive generalities. Even still, he hasn’t behaved like the loser we’ve seen in recent weeks. Romney enthusiastically embraced the role of aggressor and dominated much of the conversation.
Much like the criticism Sen. Obama faced back when he was debating Hillary Clinton, some will argue that Obama was far too gracious in dealing with his overly abrasive challenger.
Issues of style are one thing, but Obama failing to challenge Romney on some of his more blatant lies was particularly problematic.
This includes the repeated accusation that Obama wants to make $716 billion in cuts to Medicare despite it often being highlighted in the media that Romney’s own running mate has the same amount of cuts in his own plan. Unfortunately, Romney repeated this falsehood several times throughout the debate without a direct challenge from the President.
There were other instances when Romney went unchallenged, like when he said, “I will not reduce the taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans.” And when refuting Obama’s remark that corporations are still given tax breaks for moving their companies overseas, Romney quipped: “I’ve been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Maybe I need to get a new accountant, but the idea you get a break for shipping jobs overseas, is simply not the case.”
If there was any moment to mention Bain Capital, it was then.
Already, Democrats are doing their part to diffuse some of Romney’s distortions. Maryland Governor O’Malley responded to Romney’s claim that Massachusetts’ schools are the best in the nation by tweeting:
“Hey, Governor @MittRomney, Maryland schools are #1 and have been for the last four years in a row. #Debates
The New York Times has blasted Romney’s claims of creating 12 million jobs by revisiting reports in which forecasters explain the economy will create those jobs on its own no matter who wins.
In a post-debate statement, Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, categorized Romney during the debate as one who “doubled down on the same bad ideas that crashed the economy, and got testy when he was pushed on specifics.”
Messina also added that “Romney confirmed that he opposes a single dollar in new revenue from the wealthiest to reduce the deficit and continued to hide the details about how he’d accomplish his plans because he knows they don’t add up and are bad for the middle class.”
Hopefully in future debates, Obama, who rarely looked at his challenger directly, will take Romney to task in a more similar fashion and add additional context to matters like Republican obstructionism and employment (i.e., the 30-month private sector job growth under his administration).
To those that would argue that Mitt Romney did or didn’t “win” based on whether or not he lied operates under the assumption that debates are about substance. Instead, debates often prove to be more so about political theater than anything substantive.
To Obama’s credit, he was strong in his defense of his health care plan, plus convincing in his explanation as to why it’s senseless for Romney to pledge to repeal it without providing details of any concrete alternative.
Moreover, as critical as people have been toward moderate Jim Lehrer, perhaps the greatest trouble of the entire debate wasn’t so much Lehrer’s control of it — or lack thereof — but the limited scope of issues tackled.
This was a debate about the economy but nothing was said about immigration, union rights, the poor, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, abortion, and given he was governor of a state, it would’ve been nice to hear more about Mitt Romney’s record as governor.
Even better would’ve been a discussion about the nation’s poor besides one slick remark from Romney about food stamps. It’s a shame that Romney’s comments about “the 47 percent” went unmentioned considering how his economic policies could spawn a surge in careers requiring clear heels.
It’s fruitless to reach any forgone conclusion yet much less declare a winner or loser so soon after the debate without any concrete data. Nevertheless, one thing is for certain: Mitt Romney didn’t hurt himself tonight and performed far better than his detractors would have preferred.
Still, Romney is not suddenly the frontrunner nor is the President suddenly doomed. However, Romney showed up prepared and went largely unchecked in the first debate. That can’t continue in the second and third debates.