Snap Debate Assessment

I think that, on balance, it was a fairly banal, if not boring, debate.

I think that Romney exceeded expectations (he sounded informed, made no major gaffes, and sounds fairly centrist).

Obama was fairly lackluster, and therefore did not meet expectations that he would be dynamic.

Also:  kudos to Romney for not deploying zingers (or, if he did, I didn’t notice).   I would like to think that the whole zinger bit was psyop in the first place.

As such:  Romney won and will get some positive media coverage out of the debate.

I will not be surprised if there is some pro-Romney movement in the tracking poll.  I do not, however, think this was any kind of game changer.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    I did note one ironic zinger when Romney told the president he was not entitled to his own facts. The governor seemed well prepared with his talking points, wrong as they were, and repeated them to good effect.

    If that means he “won” then I suppose we all lost.

  2. John Burgess says:

    Sounds right.

  3. Fiona says:

    I have to agree. The debate has been pretty much of a yawner, but Romney, while lying through his teeth half the time, won. Obama didn’t nab him on his falsehoods. Romney was far more energetic and aggressive. While I didn’t find that kind of aggressiveness attractive, and I thought he was downright rude to Jim Lerher, I’m sure his fan base will find his performance appealing.

  4. Ed in NJ says:

    The initial spin will be that Romney won, and you will get the requisite crowing from Republicans. But then slowly it will be revealed that Romney lied about almost everything he said, and over time, it will look more like a loss because he will be boxed in the next debate.

  5. PJ says:

    Agree.

    And Obama didn’t challenge when Romney lied.

    Factcheckers may score the debate as a Obama win when it’s comes to the truth, but I guess the Romney camp will then just spin it as liberal factcheckers etc.

  6. Lit3Bolt says:

    Andrew Sullivan is undergoing a major meltdown, shrieking that Obama has lost for all time and forever and ever based on debate tactics. I think it’s part of the prescripted “tightening” of the race among the Village Heathers who want more pageviews and links and will breathlessly describe this race to be “wide open.”

    The mainstream press will slob on Romney’s knob for his alpha maleness and clutch pearls about Obama’s stuttering, but this was a dreadfully boring debate. I barely could watch.

  7. PJ says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    Andrew Sullivan is undergoing a major meltdown

    He’s becoming a Democrat.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    As I said in another thread, Obama got spanked. Miserable performance.

  9. Lit3Bolt says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Debating has never been Obama’s strong suit. I don’t know why people expected him to be better than 4 years ago, but I guess McCain was just as bad so it was relative.

    Romney just lied through his teeth until you could actually see the black forked tongue sticking out, and abandoned his own position at every turn.

    Obama’s one great line was something like: “Is the reason that Governor Romney keeping these plans secret because they are too good, that middle class families are going to do too well? No.”

    Other than that, he explained a lot, and if you’re explaining, then your losing. He also never called out Mitt for just lying, like Mitt did to him all night. That was weird.

    But Romney’s bromides and aggressiveness can’t hide the fact that he has no plan for anything specific.

  10. john personna says:

    I was struck that economically informed tweeters said at once that Romney was wrong on facts but winning.

    Is that cynicism justified?

    Tomorrow’s news cycle will tell.

  11. Mr. Replica says:

    I does look like Romney won this debate, at least until the fact checks come out. I will reserve my final judgement until then. But, it does look like he was very comfortable in his spouting of general ideas, with no specifics. Maybe because he has been doing that for so long.

    Obama just didn’t have the fight in him this debate.
    However, I think Romney only came off as energetic and aggressive because he was able to get the rest from the campaign trail he desperately needed. Whether or not Romney is able to keep up this new found energy and alpha male attitude over the next month, well, we will just have to see.

  12. mattb says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Obama got spanked. Miserable performance.

    Agreed. Romney pwnd Obama and Lerher tonight.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    Fact checking won’t help. The worst of it was that Obama looked cranky. You can win these things on likability, but not by being unlikable.

  14. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Well that is an analyst’s elitism, that while they can spot the cheats, plain folks will not.

    Sad, and opposite of the Clintonian principle that you can explain and trust voters.

    Seriously, if you scored on truth telling and voter trusting, who wins?

  15. Mr. Replica says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I wouldn’t say he looked cranky. At least not the times I was looking at the t.v., so I could be wrong.
    I think Obama looked tired. But, when I was watching, I saw him smiling, and even showed to everyone that when Romney first called the PPACA, Obamacare, and said something along the line of “no offense”, Obama takes it as a compliment.

    I do agree with Sullivan about how Obama should not have been looking down so much, and how Romney should have stopped smiling like that. But, I do not agree with Andrew that Obama might have lost this election after tonight. There is too much time left. Too much time left for Obama to get a few good nights sleep and for Romney to go back to acting unhinged.
    Unless of course Romney decides that taking breaks from the campaign trail before every debate is a winning strategy, but as I said in James’ thread, that may come back to bite him.

  16. Fiona says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The worst of it was that Obama looked cranky. You can win these things on likability, but not by being unlikable.

    I don’t think Obama looked cranky; more tired and bored. Romney was definitely more energized, but didn’t seem particularly likeable. Of course, I’m predisposed to think he’s an asshole; others impressions might vary.

  17. One mannerism I noted in Romney that I hope he stops doing is that when he’s being ironic, he assumes this sing-song tone of insincere incredulity that I find REALLY irritating (e.g. “I CAaaannnn’t understaaaaaand HOW you can cut Medicare $716 billion for current recipients of Medicare”).

  18. john personna says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Esp. when delivering the biggest lie of the night?

    Seriously, on a policy level, Romney said cost containment for Medicare was vital, and in the same debate said that cost containment was a cut and a wrong. Similarly cost containment is good, spending review is bad.

    Are some of you scoring that as a win even as you understand the trick?

  19. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Oh, the rallying cry of the butt-hurt… “wait for the fact-checkers!”

    Those fine, outstanding, unbiased, impartial “fact-checkers.” I recall them giving John Boehner a “partially true” on his pledge to, as Speaker, use commercial air only for his travels because he’s only kept it “so far.” I also recall them giving the Romney campaign two of four Pinocchios for saying Obama hadn’t gone to Israel as president because he hadn’t gone “so far.”

    As others have noted, Obama keeps campaigning on “math,” but Romney actually used numbers. And Romney’s line about Obama not picking winners and losers, but only losers… that was painfully true.

    “Behold the god who bleeds!”

    And now we hear that it’s up to Joe Biden to ride to the rescue… Biden, who lied and lied and lied his ass off in his debate with Palin, going up against Paul Ryan.

    Free investment advice: buy Orville Reddenbacher stock. Buy Jiffy Pop stock. Buy Pop Secret stock. The conservatives will be buying popcorn by the truckload.

    And if you really want to clean up, also guy stock in Preparation H, and you’ll make a killing off all the butthurt liberals.

    I am happier than any twice-fictional Corellian has any right to be.

  20. Herb says:

    Zingers weren’t going to work with an audience that had agreed to remain silent. And neither was Obama’s speaking style.

    There was a moment early in the debate (can’t remember the topic) where it seemed like the president delivered a classic applause line….and there was no applause. I think it shook him.

  21. Smooth Jazz says:

    “I will not be surprised if there is some pro-Romney movement in the tracking poll. I do not, however, think this was any kind of game changer.”

    Of course, you would not see it that way – Though judging from the reactions of Chris Mathews, Andrew Sullivan, Joe Klein, Bill Maher, etc – but others will beg to differ. I sense you are “hoping” this isn’t a game changer so you can keep hiving up your rigged polls, keep relying on Nate Silver’s 99% probabilties of victory and keep the victory champagne flowing. But I suspect, millions of Americans finally saw Gov Romney last night for the first time, sans the MSM Obama-Loving filter, and came away pleasantly surprised by his command of issues, stage presence, et al. Like I said, you better keep some maalox around just in case your premature celebration doesn’t pan out.

  22. @Smooth Jazz:

    I sense you are “hoping” this isn’t a game changer so you can keep hiving up your rigged polls,

    You are, of course, allowed to sense whatever you like. The problem becomes you rather frequently react to what your Smooth Jazz Sense thinks I am writing, rather than what I am writing.

    I think Romney did well last night. But we know from past debates that doing well in a given debate rarely makes a significant difference, let alone creating a change in the overall character of a race.

    I base this on actual observations of past campaigns. You, however, base your positions on your preferences.

    And BTW: I will not need any Maalox regardless of the outcomes of the elections. They will be whatever they will be. You really need to stop projecting.

  23. Mikey says:

    @john personna:

    Well that is an analyst’s elitism, that while they can spot the cheats, plain folks will not.

    It’s not that, it’s far fewer people will dig into the fact checks than watched the debate. And the fact checks will be far too late to influence people’s initial perceptions about the debate.

    Also, people’s expectations are different for these debates, I think–they expect some level of distortion and puffery as each guy tries to get the upper hand, so they’re more forgiving than they would be in another scenario.

  24. Mikey says:

    A couple debate-related items:

    A CNN poll of debate watchers taken immediately following the debate had 67% calling it a Romney win, the first time a candidate has gotten over 60% in that poll since they started asking the question in 1984.

    Also, in the same poll, 35% of respondents said the debate made them more likely to vote for Romney, vs. 18% saying the same for Obama.

    ABC this morning said it was the most-Tweeted-about political event ever, with over 10 million tweets.

    From a personal perspective, I thought Romney’s handling of Lehrer was brilliant. I’m not sure whether he expected Lehrer to be a weak moderator, or if he came in ready to push the envelope regardless, but he seemed to know pretty quickly the referee didn’t have a firm control of the game, and he exploited the hell out of it.

    Game-changer? Probably not, as these things rarely are. But I think a lot of people got to see a Mitt Romney they didn’t know existed. He looked like a leader, and the President looked like he was getting his prostate examined.

  25. Smooth Jazz says:

    “And BTW: I will not need any Maalox regardless of the outcomes of the elections. They will be whatever they will be. You really need to stop projecting.”

    Please don’t insult my intelligence and patronize me: You have big time skin in this game and have a horse you clearly advocate for. To suggest that you are indifferent regarding this outcome of this race is a farce. From your condescending posts about the “Unskewed Poll Guy” to your suggestions that Nate Silver, a left wing hack working for a left wing rag, and his 99% Obama probability of Victory scenarios is a paragon of impartiality, we know where you stand.

    Heck, reading OTB the past few weeks, a casual reader would think the votes have already
    been counted and Obama won in a landslide. Even the post mortem debate spin on here today to the effect “Romney may have won the debate, but it won’t move the numbers”, is a strong indicator that you guys have major skin in this game. I just think you should brace yourself for the possibility of an Obama loss – regardless of what your bogus polls suggest.

  26. @Smooth Jazz: You really do not understand me, nor the blogging on this site. Had the polling been reversed we would have been talking about how Obama was in trouble (and, in fact, if the polling does invert, we will be saying so).

    Had Obama had Romney’s numbers and had Democrats been engaging in poll denial, I would have been writing about that (as I have noted on numerous occasions).

    From your condescending posts about the “Unskewed Poll Guy”

    I will plead guilty on that one. It is not because of his results, however, it is because of his methods.

    to your suggestions that Nate Silver, a left wing hack working for a left wing rag, and his 99% Obama probability of Victory scenarios is a paragon of impartiality,

    Actually, it is 86.1% at the moment, and it will remain in that range as long as the polling in place like Ohio stay where they have been.

    This could change. And if it changes, my views on who the likely winner will be will change.

    we know where you stand.

    Yes, I stand with those who use rigorous methods and you stand with people who will produce the outcome you want. That is the difference between us. (and it is more profound that anything to do with electoral preferences).

    Look, I want the Texas Rangers to win the World Series, but I have to admit that losing the AL East and having to rely on winning a one game playoff has greatly diminished their chances. I am sure I could find a blogger somewhere who will tell me that it is all to Texas’ advantage and part of a master plan. That might make me feel better, but it would have nothing to do with reality.

  27. @Smooth Jazz:

    I forgot this bit:

    To suggest that you are indifferent regarding this outcome of this race is a farce.

    I am not suggesting that I am indifferent. But the problem is that you confuse me with a cheerleader and assume that my posting, especially on the poll issue, is based on being said cheerleader. This is not the case and I welcome you to try and demonstrate how my posts on the topic have been anything other than a critique of people who are willing to ignore the numbers simply because they do not like them. (Or, indeed, to redo the numbers to make them fit their preferences).

  28. @Smooth Jazz: I will admit to being snarky with you. The reason for this has been that you have not yet proved yourself to be an honest interlocutor on this subject. You never engage in actual debate or argumentation. Instead, you just rant and attempt to provoke.

    Indeed, I am not sure what it is you want/think you are accomplishing.

  29. mattb says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But the problem is that you confuse me with a cheerleader and assume that my posting, especially on the poll issue, is based on being said cheerleader.

    SmoothJazz’s accusations point to one of the more insidious effects of the rise of right wing media: the belief that everyone is only capable of cheerleading. Critical detachment does not exist in his world. Everyone is always gaming the system for their candidate.

  30. anjin-san says:

    Obama looked detached, and he failed to counterpunch. Not a good night for him.

  31. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    It’s not that, it’s far fewer people will dig into the fact checks than watched the debate. And the fact checks will be far too late to influence people’s initial perceptions about the debate.

    You certainly aren’t alone in thinking that, but I see it as a widespread cynicism, and very sad.

    It’s a little like Keynes’ beauty contest, right?

    Rather than score the debate on fact and policy, listeners try to put themselves in mind of another listener, one less well informed. It’s not what we think about the $716B “cut” to Medicare, or the sudden assertion that the tax policy will amount to nothing. Instead we worry about some “Joe six pack” and how he’ll just believe it all.

    Well, that’s not really the highest form of democracy. It’s not the League of Women Voters explaining each issue and each claim. It is the opposite. It’s a cynicism that theatrical performance will win the day and the campaign.

  32. Franklin says:

    @Smooth Jazz: My suggestion: quit while you’re way behind.

  33. ptfe says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Your must have a blast when students come in asking for grade changes…

  34. Mikey says:

    @john personna:

    Well, that’s not really the highest form of democracy. It’s not the League of Women Voters explaining each issue and each claim. It is the opposite. It’s a cynicism that theatrical performance will win the day and the campaign.

    Well, theatrical performance definitely wins the day, because the debate format simply doesn’t allow anything like “explaining each issue and each claim.” And don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt at all that there will be a lot of people doing the fact-check thing. I just don’t think post-debate fact-checking will have nearly the impact the debate itself had.

    Personally, I don’t think the point of the debate is fact and policy, at least it hasn’t been for a long time. It’s to showcase how the candidates respond to pressure, and in that context Romney simply buried the President. It wasn’t even close.

  35. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    I see that as a capitulation. We come to sites like this because we believe in fact and policy. We argue fact and policy for a year.

    And then a debate comes along and we say fuck it, hire an actor.

  36. john personna says:

    (A word James uses put me in the moderation queue.)

  37. john personna says:

    I mean seriously, which side of this debate do you really want to be on:

    1) Debates are for me.

    2) Debates are for someone stupider than me.

    How can I not call “2” the cynical answer?

  38. bk says:

    The real winner of the night was Miguel Cabrera. And the loser was the concept of truth. As someone said elsewhere, we witnessed the first “post-truth debate” last night (unless, however, Romney decided during his pre-debate dinner to totally reject every idea that he has been publicly espousing for the past 18 months and instead come up with brand-new plans on taxes, deficit reduction, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid).

  39. Mikey says:

    @john personna: Less informed != stupider.

    Again, I think the debates are more about how each candidate acts and reacts than they are about dispassionate fact and analysis. They’re visual as much as auditory. People want to see who will assert control, they want to see how these guys are in a confrontational environment. I think at some level they use the debates as a kind of proxy for how each candidate might deal with a foreign leader.

    Finally, I doubt this debate moved anyone from Obama’s column to Romney’s, but if post-debate polls and focus groups are any indication, Romney did a great job with the undecideds.

  40. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    I think “low-information voter” is a euphemism for many commentators. It doesn’t just mean that you are have been asleep.

    bk called it with “we witnessed the first ‘post-truth debate’ last night (unless, however, Romney decided during his pre-debate dinner to totally reject every idea that he has been publicly espousing for the past 18 months and instead come up with brand-new plans on taxes, deficit reduction, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid).”

    How “low-information” do you have to be to not just miss that now, but for us to have no expectation that you’ll get it at all?

    I mean, it obviously boggles me that we have the facts and yet concede the argument.

  41. @mattb:

    SmoothJazz’s accusations point to one of the more insidious effects of the rise of right wing media: the belief that everyone is only capable of cheerleading. Critical detachment does not exist in his world. Everyone is always gaming the system for their candidate.

    Agreed. It is an unfortunate part of most political conversations.

  42. @ptfe:

    Your must have a blast when students come in asking for grade changes…

    The success rate is quite low, shall we say.

  43. @john personna:

    It’s a cynicism that theatrical performance will win the day and the campaign.

    Sadly, that is what these debates tend to be.

    As I noted on Twitter last night, the most memorable bit will end up being Big Bird…

    (Still, I share your frustration on the medicare cut claim and to the taxes claim and it is a shame that these matters were not countered).

  44. Mikey says:

    @john personna: Well, Steven kind of beat me to this, but basically it would have been most effective for the President to counter Romney’s claims when they were made, and he didn’t. Really, it’s astonishing how much he just let go by. Are we to believe he and his staff didn’t know Romney would be coming out with this stuff?

    And the fact Obama apparently wasn’t prepared with strong counters to Romney’s claims will hurt him MORE with “high-informed” voters, because they know what Romney was doing.

  45. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    And the fact Obama apparently wasn’t prepared with strong counters to Romney’s claims will hurt him MORE with “high-informed” voters, because they know what Romney was doing.

    That would certainly be death of the fact-based universe, and a move to one in which truth is only truth if the dance is well choreographed.

  46. Mikey says:

    @john personna:

    That would certainly be death of the fact-based universe, and a move to one in which truth is only truth if the dance is well choreographed.

    I submit that in the realm of politics, this happened long ago.