During the first presidential debate there were few Obama supporters that weren’t wringing their hands over the president’s poor performance. He looked alternately bored, annoyed, stumped and just generally seemed to appear to question why he had to go through this. I kept waiting for him to pull a George H.W. Bush and look at his watch. In hindsight that may have been better if he combined it with, “Governor, we have now listened to you for an hour denying everything you have campaigned on for the past 18 months. We have 30 minutes left so please tell the American people what you really believe and if you were lying before or are lying now.”
We know President Obama isn’t a great debater and Jim Lehrer losing total control of the proceedings didn’t help matters. Remember, Obama lost nearly every debate to others including Hillary Clinton in 2008 but still won the nomination. We also know that past winners of first presidential debates often don’t become president or we would have had President Kerry, President Mondale and President Carter for a second term.
The American people are smarter than political pundits give them credit for. They do weed out truth from fiction and judge candidates not just on one debate. I question the intelligence of some who say they are still undecided. We have heard Romney campaign for 18 months and the Republican Party has issued and endorsed its platform — the policies and principles he is running on. Barack Obama has been president for more than three and a half years and has a record on which to judge him. The Democratic Party issued and endorsed the party platform, which represents the ideas and principles on which he is running. People who say they haven’t heard enough to make up their minds just aren’t listening or reading.
The majority of voters made up their minds long before the debate and we know Obama is a great campaigner, which he showed again at his massive rallies the day after the debate in Denver, Wisconsin and Ohio. Most people who listened did so as much out of curiosity as for new facts to emerge. But while Romney either misstated or lied about his positions on nearly every major issue, he did it well and with forcefulness. The president reiterated his positions in a boring and dull fashion and never really challenged Romney on any of the lies.
The dynamic of the polling after the debate was easy to anticipate and Romney won big for being forceful and standing up to the president. He didn’t back down and spoke clearly and even occasionally eloquently. He was well rehearsed and it showed. Presidential debates aren’t judged on truthfulness but on style and appearance and Romney clearly won on those points.
But over the next couple of weeks the few really undecided voters will have time to digest a little of what was said and get to see the vice presidential debate and two more presidential debates.
I wrote this column prior to Vice President Joe Biden debating Rep. Paul Ryan but while VP debates are often fun to watch I don’t think there ever was one that changed the dynamic of an election. Some good lines have emerged, such as Lloyd Bentsen saying to Dan Quayle, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.” But it was Quayle who became vice president.
This election may not be over but it still appears that President Obama will be reelected. People will conclude it doesn’t matter who wins a debate on style but rather what they said. They will come to see that while Romney created a new fantasy dismissing what he said for the past year and a half, President Obama, however boring or aloof his delivery, is in fact the person they want and trust as commander-in-chief for the next four years.
The focus must now include what happens to the Congress. My guess is that Democrats will maintain their majority in the Senate and Republicans theirs in the House. So the fights will continue but just maybe the reelection of President Obama will give the few moderate Republicans left in the Congress the cojones to do the right thing for the nation.