Election 2012

Mitt Romney Won the First Debate. But Why and How?

My post-debate reaction:

Mitt Romney won the debate last night but only if you judge the "winner" of a debate as the most hyperkinetic, oftentimes aggressive and condescending participant who used his rehearsed delivery to spackle over his lies, mistakes, generalities and misleading statements.

Almost on cue, the cable news people along with, shockingly enough, some people who I otherwise admire and whose work I read every day, have more than just confused style for substance and leadership quality in the context of a debate -- they've completely and totally ignored the words Mitt Romney actually said. More on that presently.

In contrast to Mitt Romney's used-car salesman approach in which he craps in your mouth but does so in a way that makes you thank him and shake his sweaty hand in the end, Barack Obama's natural and authentic -- underscore authentic -- style might seem like it's not as polished. Furthermore, many of my friends on the left lapsed back into this weird chronic amnesia in which they forget how Barack Obama carries himself, how he debates and who he is...

Continue reading here.

  • D_C_Wilson

    My theory:

    Rush slipped Romney some of his oxy and slipped Obama a double-dose of cold medications.

  • Victor_the_Crab

    Romney looked crazy. Obama looked calm. And the media interpreted it as Romney the winner.

    Cronkite and Morrow are spinning in their graves over the state of this media.

  • rob black

    Having spent the better part of the Obama / McCain debates screaming things like “Kick that old man in the nuts!” at my teevee….I watched Comedy Central instead last night and caught some of the post mortem from MSNBC later. I say “some” because the collective freak out was not very informative…and was exactly what I expected.
    Knowing that Mittens is 10 times the liar McCain could ever be also played a part in sitting this one out.
    Obama will never risk coming off as the “angry black man” and frankly, if there are still people who don’t know that the Romney campaign is not based on any type of truth, I doubt those people have the necessary skills it will take to actually make their way to a polling place in November.
    So, the only people whose minds will be changed by these debate performances are….who? People angry at Obama for not slapping Mitt around enough? People who just emerged from 10 year comas in time to catch the debates? The mythical “undecideds” who are just now starting to pay attention? Voters who only want to vote for “winners” and will shift because the debates will somehow move the tide?
    I predict at some time in the next two debates (probably the one on foreign policy), Mitt will blurt out something that will scare the shit out of virtually everyone and Obama being too passive or “wonky” in this one will be as forgotten as Reagan being flat out senile in his first debate for his second term.
    In other words…chill the fuck out…

  • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

    Romney only won if you count the winner as the person who made the audience the most uncomfortable.

    Frankly, I was shocked by his performance, and not because it was good, but because of his drugged appearance and behavior. Romney’s mannerisms seemed to indicate a high dose of amphetamines or something—the beady, constantly blinking eyes were all I could focus on.

    And then, there are all the lies he told us to our faces. Lies that are easily fact-checked and disproved.

    People are going to trust this man to govern this country as the leader of the free world?

    I think not.

  • http://twitter.com/kerryreid Kerry Reid

    Also, how much easier would it be for Dems to win if they didn’t have a “base” that retreats into mewling passive victimhood at every perceived setback AND that expects their leaders to play the Adam Baldwin role in “My Bodyguard” and avenge THOSE BIG BULLIES!!!! for them?

  • http://twitter.com/kerryreid Kerry Reid

    Didn’t see the debate, haven’t watched the reactions. BUT I did see the “pre-game,” if you will, where all the pundits were saying that “Romney needs to get really specific and show his warm, human side if he wants to win this thing!” SO it appears from what I’ve read that he did neither, yet is still the winner. So fuck punditry.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Norris/1597765442 Michael Norris

    Bob, I am beginning to see what you mean about cable news “pundits.” I wish they would stop calling themselves progressives–because they are not. Chris Matthews tripping his shit-latch, and Ed Schultz intimating that “the President doesn’t appear to want this job” is not helpful. Being a progressive is not a state of mind, or even an ideology, it is people with vision for a better way to govern than what conservatives are offering. Schultz, Matthews, and the rest of the MSNBC gang were not acting like–or sounding like progressives at all. They were a bunch of petulent whining crybabies because the president didn’t meet their expectations.

    So here we are–we have arrived at the next day. And as usual, progressives are retreating to their beds, sucking their thumbs, arm-chair quarterbacking the president’s performance, making excuses, second guessing his debate strategy, using terms like “rope-a-dope” to describe what they saw. In typical progressive fashion, the whining and pouting has continued since last night. And why? Because the president didn’t go out there and challenge every fact, jot, and tittle of Romney’s responses. Look, how stupid are we? Mitt Romney is the biggest liar to ever run for the presidency. Did anyone think that was going to change in one debate? And the president is one of the coolest, most level-headed, extrordinarily calm and calculating people to ever hold the office. So what progressives wanted was a fist-fight. When did Barack Obama ever fist-fight anyone in a debate or anywhere else for that matter? Progressives wanted the president to become someone last night that he never has been. For all the bitching progressives do about the right creating a strawman president and caricaturizing him, if you saw Maddow and company last night–that’s exactly what they did. I found it interesting watching the MSNBC coverage last night that the only guy who was making sense was Al Sharpton. Dr. Maddow, Schultz, and Matthews sounded like petulent children. There was a little role-reversal there I thought.

    You are right, Bob that the pundit world confused style for substance and leadership. I am not going to armchair-quarterback the president’s performance except to say this: He did what he had to do. If he would have went out there and cleaned Romney’s clock in an easily won argument about facts, statistics, and flip-flops, then the gang at FOX News and even some MSNBC pundits would have opened every show today discussing the “angry black man” they saw in the debate last night.

    One debate is not going to change my mind–or three, or four, or a half dozen for that matter–about how I feel about the president. Instead of whining and crying and pouting like spoiled children, progressives and liberals need to point directly at that transcript of the debate and point out every lie and flip that Willard expressed last night. Express the truth for what it is: Barack Obama is–and has been–an outstanding president and a great leader. Mitt Romney is–and always has been–a pathological liar and a sociopath. Instead of whining about how disappointed they are in the president’s perfomance, they could be talking about how easy it is for a narcissistic sociopath to win a head to head debate. I think it is easier sometimes for progressive pundits to just throw everyone under the bus instead of doing real news work and analysis. As for me, I am a dyed in the wool, hot, unfiltered, unabashed, and unapologetic progressive. And one debate sure as hell isn’t going to change that. I wish the whiners at MSNBC could learn that.

    Well done essay, Bob. Keep up the good work–progressives need your voice.

    • gescove

      “…they could be talking about how easy it is for a narcissistic sociopath to win a head to head debate.” Exactly. This so-called “win” will stand for a news cycle or two. Then the realization that Rmoney repeatedly lied and the President didn’t will begin to set in. And that will mean a win at the ballot box for Obama.

      • mrbrink

        I think when they’re debating social issues, that’s where the sun will truly shine.

    • GrafZeppelin127

      Appreciate this comment, as I slowly step back from the edge of the cliff and put things in greater perspective.

      The more I think about this, the more I think that people judge debates the same way moot court competitions are judged (whether by law students, professors, attorneys, judges, or whomever). Performance is more important than substance; whether your argument is clear, coherent, well-reasoned and persuasive is the key to winning, irrespective of whether your actual understanding of, or statements about, the law is correct.

      In a real courtroom, in an appellate argument, you win if you’re right on the law; if the law requires the conclusion you advocate. In moot court, you could be completely wrong on the law, and be arguing a case that could never win in any real court, and still win the competition on performance. [Part of the reason for this is that you get assigned which side to argue in each round; you prepare to argue both sides. Judges don’t hold it against you that the side you get in that round (petitioner or respondent) has an inherently weaker legal case.]

      Romney’s performance was clearly better; he was more articulate, more confident in his positions, better-versed in the things he had to say to support them, smoother in his transitions from one topic to the next, better-reasoned in terms of ticking off sequential points, more comfortable, and seemed to be enjoying himself more. Obama at times seemed to struggle to explain or find the words to explain what he wanted to say; he came across as unprepared. He seemed to be winging it where Romney seemed polished and professional.

      Now, that said, much of what Romney was saying was either bullshit or nonsense. But that’s the kind of thing those of us who know better have to count on those who don’t to figure out or find out for themselves. Anyone who didn’t know anything about anything, or who was willing to give both candidates the benefit of the doubt as to truthfulness and consistency (i.e., who was willing to just set fact-checking and parsing aside and just accept whatever the candidates said as true or reasonably close to the truth) would have been far more impressed with Romney, as an advocate, than with Obama. Imagine a non-lawyer or non-judge, someone who knows nothing about the law, who has not even read the briefs or the bench brief for the case at bar, judging a moot court competition. If the advocates performed as the candidates did last night, Romney would win handily.

      Will the electorate, having watched the debate, now turn to media reports and other sources to fact-check, or try to make sense of or further understand what the candidates actually said? Will they recognize Romney as the used-car salesman he is, and that he played last night? Time will tell. But in any event the President didn’t help himself, and I think that’s what’s got so many of us upset.

      • bphoon

        I’m not a lawyer but I get what you’re saying about moot court judging. My dad’s not a lawyer but he was an expert arguer and I learned from him. The “competitions” around our house were much as you describe moot court competitions.

        What I find distressing in this is that we’re not judging a moot court here, we’re trying to make a judgment as to who is best suited to lead our country through some of the biggest challenges we’ve faced since the two decades of the Great Depression and World War II.

        However, our media, such as it is today, insists on making this a “moot court” competition. And many who either don’t know any better or simply don’t take the time to pay attention follow right along with that meme. I’m convinced that’s what makes reality TV and brainless sitcoms so popular: the sheer ease of them–no thinking required.

        On the other hand, for my money, this campaign has been probably the most covered in my memory. And, I have to say, I’ve been surprised by the amount (however small we may think it is) of fact-checking that has been done by the establishment media to date. By contrast, they took pretty much everything Bush and Cheney said through two campaigns (and eight years of “governing”) at face value.

        I’m not seeing quite as much of that these days. It’s as if “fact checking” has become a new fad or something, the trendy buzz word. Our media is nothing if not blindly attracted to the newest shiny object so “fact checking” is what all the cool kids seem to be doing at the moment.

        So, hopefully, the media will let something real slip through the bullshit blizzard in spite of themselves. I only hope that enough “undecideds” are there when the moment happens to make a positive difference on November 6.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KQVTT3LNW5O3R26AG2RLIFWYZQ Lunatics

    I don’t care what pundits think.

    What matters is what the polls show after last night. That will take a couple more days to find out. But we will. I think Romney will get a bump. UNdecided voters aren’t paying close attention to the facts, because if they were they wouldn’t be undecided! And if you put yourself into an undecided voter’s brain, you can see how Romney “won”. YEs, he walked all over facts, he contradicted himself constantly with regards to things he has said in the past. But these facts just weren’t challenged. The $716 billion comment was let go. Romney not supporting tax cuts for millionaires? No matter how many times Obama says “that’s not true”, if the moderator sits idly by without a word about that then it gets past too.

    Obama was bad. His body language was poor. Sure, we should be discussing the substance. But to undecided voters, that doesn’t even really matter. They’re looking for who looks presidential. Romney seemed passionate, hyped, and Obama seemed tired. That resonates with undecided voters.

    As I said, I think there will be a bump in the polls. However, I don’t think it will be a crazy bump. How many undecided voters are there, really? At this point, not many. Besides, there are 3 debates left. I have a hard time believing Obama will be walked all over again in the next debate. We’ve seen this with incumbents in the past – they’re out of debate practice, they’re used to being in the Oval office with a bunch of “yes, sir” people around them. Obama’s not used to that. They’ll change strategy, though, especially if the polls show the bump that I think tehy will. Obama has to be less defensive and more aggressive. Not in an “anger” way…Romney was aggressive last night, bordering on crazy, but he wasn’t hateful. It can be done. Obama has to step up his game now that he’s found out the tone of these debates.

  • mrbrink

    Yeah, Bob. Totally agree. You suggested reading the transcript. That’s great idea. Brilliant, actually. It flips the knee jerk perceptions of the debate on its head.

    Some of the things president Obama is being throttled for not mentioning were in fact mentioned a little bit more subtle than the bull in the China shop that was Mitt Romney. And I think that’s because we’ve heard Obama speak so often about the things that matter, and have seen unprecedented progress, oh yes we have, some people who should know better have become a little desensitized to it when they hear it and see it.

    President Obama made a subtle reference to people like Mitt Romney taking advantage of the tax code saying: “When you add up all the loopholes and deductions that upper income individuals can — are currently taking advantage of — if you take those all away — you don’t come close to paying for $5 trillion in tax cuts and $2 trillion in additional military spending.”

    Did he come right out and say, “Bain Capital sucks?” No. Because the president isn’t about talking to America like they’re idiots.

    He made personal references to a teacher who has 42 kids in her class using 10 year old textbooks. That was a great moment in the debate and that to me is the heart of the problem with public education today.

    There were some exaggerations, but not a lack of honesty, and if anyone actually listened to president Obama, rather than turning their short attention span onto the odd, shiny object that Mitt Romney represented last night, and getting lost in his hair, Obama clearly won this debate on substance and message.

    They say Mitt Romney won the debate. By this ridiculously low standard, Charlie Sheen is winning, too!

  • Ned F

    Not really wanting to get caught up in a sporting event, I intentionally did not watch the debate knowing it would be dissected to pieces afterward when I would find out all I needed to know. I inadvertently caught five minutes of it just when Mitt was lying about the 716 billion medicare cut and a sleepy Obama gave a non-rebuttle. I turned it off before he was finished. In those five minutes it seems I caught the whole substance of the event. I’m glad I missed it.

  • laddieluv

    …so the person who is the loudest, the rudest, the most “manic” and tells one lie after another (medicare/taxes/WallStreet reform/Obamacare) “wins”?…I think not…Romnutz looked like he was going to “wet himself” most of the time..his eyes were darting like his “lizard tongue” when they didn’t look glazed over…and I despised him (and his “harpy” wife) before…but now? …if you can’t spot a “dangerous sociopath” (all about me/and I lie as I breathe/for starters) when he’s right in front of you, you deserve what you get…the man is dangerous…that’s what sociopaths do best…”manipulate” and convince you that they are “correct”….ok..if President Obama doesn’t do “better” in the next debate, he might only beat Romnutz by a few million votes in November….

    • http://twitter.com/SugaRazor Razor

      I’m not getting this Romney “manic” stuff. He lied, absolutely, but he looked comfortable and prepared, the only issue I saw from him was that he talked fast.

      • laddieluv

        …then you don’t really know (visually) how someone can appear “manic” (eyes darting; then glassy/static speech/stammering/appearing “wound up” /jumping on other people’s words for starters)…and you are certainly entitled to your perception and opinion…nice day to you…

      • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

        He looked and behaved like he was on speed, Razor. Look at a replay and watch him.

  • GrafZeppelin127

    Obama was dull, wonky, and inexcusably unprepared. Romney was polished, over-rehearsed, and shamelessly lying.

    No matter how you slice it, this was a huge loss. This debate was not for us, who know better, or for the people in the paracosm, who are apoplectic with glee. It’s for people who don’t fact-check during or after a debate; people who don’t hear or even really care about lies or truth. They hear one guy who sounds like he knows what he’s talking about and believes in himself, and one guy who sounds like he just rolled out of bed and was told, “Oh, by the way, you have a debate in 10 minutes.” WTF was he thinking? Sullivan called it “a rolling calamity,” and “political malpractice.” He was being kind.

    So much for the 47%.

    Obama just cost himself the election, and G-d only knows what Romney’s presidency will cost the country. The POTUS has pissed it away, just like the Jets have pissed away their season. I am so fucking depressed right now I can’t think straight, or even bring myself to put on the Stephanie Miller show.

    Yes, I’m overreacting. Maybe I’ll feel better later. But the Mets are done, the Jets are done, and maybe also Obama is done. Sometimes I really envy people who don’t care about sports or politics.

    • http://twitter.com/SugaRazor Razor

      Yeah, that’s definitely an overreaction.

    • stacib23

      Sometimes I really envy people who don’t care about sports or politics.

      I’m a Cubs fan – tell me about it.

      Obama just cost himself the election.

      Been there, done that.

      Considering that you’ve been convinced all along that Obama would lose, when did you change your mind? I’ve been MIA for a few days and maybe missed your conversion. I didn’t feel the depressed stuff – maybe because I didn’t feel like Obama lost, but I seriously considered not doing any politics for the next few days to preserve my sanity. I’m watching Stephanie Miller right now, have been for the past couple hours and I’m telling you Graf, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. As a matter of fact, I feel much better. Between MSNBC and the Current crew last night, we should all be hanging our collective heads in shame today, but our guy, for better or worse, stuck to the truth and in the end that is what will prevail. (And all of this from the Debbiest of Downers :-))

      • GrafZeppelin127

        I’d been cautiously optimistic (or, cautiously less-pessimistic) since the conventions. I didn’t expect the Romney campaign to be this inept, the GOP convention to be as lackluster as it was, and frankly, I didn’t expect the broad public to be as unreceptive to Romney/Fox/GOP agitprop as it seems to have been over the past month. Particularly after President Clinton’s speech, I started to feel like the public was “getting it.”

        Whether they have second thoughts after last night remains to be seen.

      • mrbrink

        Can I just say that Stephanie Miller makes it all feel better?

  • http://twitter.com/SugaRazor Razor

    I think there’s a difference between being a loudmouth clown like Ed Schultz and passively letting Romney run roughshod over the debate, the moderator, the President, and most importantly, the truth.

    A simple “that’s not true” would’ve sufficed, but for the most part, Obama let Romney trample him. And you’re right, the biggest mistake of the debate from Romney was missed by most, and therefore it didn’t happen.

    That’s the biggest problem with Romney’s win* last night. While he lied through his teeth, flipped on every issue (again) and offered no substance (“I will create jobs! How? By creating jobs!”) he did give off the perception that he won. It’s not right, it’s not fair, but America is a really stupid country and that’s how it goes.

    If this election hinges on undecideds and they were waiting until last night to make their decision, then Obama just lost the election, simple as that.

    Now, I don’t think that’s the case, debates aren’t as important in the internet age and since most people have made up their mind at this point and I don’t think the 4% of undecideds are enough for Romney to recover from the deficit he’s in, but for the first time since Romney became the nominee, I think he has a chance to win.

    • ranger11

      I really kinda don’t think so. I don’t get any of this. Obama wasn’t drunk or on thorazine. Maybe I’m getting too old for this shit.

      • http://twitter.com/SugaRazor Razor

        Obama was Obama, but Romney was entirely prepared for that and worked it entirely to his advantage stylistically. It is the first time I’ve seen his campaign with a clearly prepared and well-executed plan.