Just in case you were flipping between Monday Night Football and Game 7 of the NLCS and happened to stumble upon a presidential debate, you may have noticed a churlish, ornery man with a condescending gaze arguing and pontificating while a calm, collected man sat to his right.
Barack Obama hardly looked like the president last night. His quip about bayonets and horses was obnoxious at best and his joke about the 1980’s wanting their policy back was hardly a winner.
Soon-to-be-former President Obama looked the part of the challenger, not the incumbent, and certainly not the front-runner. He was petty, small and argumentative.
NBC’s Chuck Todd tweeted that Obama appeared to be baiting Romney into a more heated debate saying, “It’s what challengers do who think they are behind.”
If you look at the polls, that’s exactly where Obama stands.
If you’d taken two people who had no idea about current events, had them watch the debate and tell you what they thought, they’d inevitably have told you that President Romney had taken a lot of shots of candidate Obama.
On points, it seemed President Obama won the debate. To be fair, the incumbent always has the advantage in foreign policy discussions because, as Obama himself noted, Governor Romney hasn’t had the opportunity to actually make foreign policy decisions.
In fact, Romney’s best answer last night, and perhaps of the entire debate season, was in response to moderator Bob Scheiffer’s question about Israel calling to tell the president they had bombers on the way.
Mitt’s response was that such a scenario would never play out, because he and his administration would have been a part of the decision-making process before such a call would be made by our ally.
It wasn’t a true ducking of the question because his answer was to the heart of the question which is, to what extent are you willing to stand with Israel? Mitt Romney made it clear he stood with Israel to the point that they would never declare war on another country without our support, or at least our knowledge.
That’s the best answer a non-incumbent candidate could have possibly given in that scenario and I have to say I was wildly impressed with Romney in that moment.
Obama’s bayonets line may have been a laugh line, but it won’t play well in the industrial towns in Virginia who make battle ships.
And I thought Romney had more poignant lines that were actually about policy. The “We can’t kill our way out of this,” line was superb as was the response to Obama’s apology tour rebuttal, “Mr. President we have not dictated to other nations, we have freed other nations from dictators.”
Romney had an answer for every attack last night, but did it without ever taking the bait. When the president tried to throw “fact-checkers” at Romney over the apology tour, Romney responded with direct quotes from Obama speeches.
More to the point, Romney passed the important eye test. He looked presidential, sounded presidential, and quelled potential fears that he was going to be continue warhawk policies of the last Republican president.
If you ask the BBC how the debates were, they’ll tell you it was a draw, but agree that Romney acquitted himself well.
CNN had the debates a 48-40 victory on a poll of registered voters, while CBS had a much larger disparity. If you’re counting punches, Obama may have landed more punches and on the scorecard won the fight.
But this victory was nothing in comparison to the beatdown Romney handed Obama in the first debate in front of 70 million people, the turning point in this election no matter the outcome.
Obama didn’t score with this debate for a number of reasons, but mostly because the average moderate, independent or undecided voter doesn’t make decisions based on foreign policy specifics, it’s a feel thing.
If you weren’t sure about Romney, you could watch him last night and say, “Well, yeah this guy could definitely be president,” whereas that wasn’t as clear about John McCain four years ago.
And if you were dubious of Obama – late deciders almost never shift toward the incumbent – last night’s performance with such vitriol and acrimony hardly paints a pretty picture of our top administrator.
Obama did little, if anything to stop Romney’s momentum toward Nov. 6, which means he lost last night. Mitt wasn’t sharp, but all he had to do was not blow it.
And he certainly rose to the occasion.