Following a week and a half of Democrats either piling criticism on President Obamaâ€™s first debate performance or making excuses for it, few could question that tonight the Countryâ€™s microscope was squarely focused on our 44th President. Would he over-correct and turn voters off by being too aggressive? Would he be able to effectively go on the attack in the Town Hall format? How will he handle personal questions from the very people struggling due to â€œhisâ€ anemic economy?
After the dust settled tonight, not only were these questions and the 11 questions the audience asked answeredâ€”we might have just gotten the answer to the biggest question of them all. Letâ€™s jump right in.
President Obama (Art Smith)
Last nightâ€™s debate proved to be much more interesting and entertaining that I was expecting. The President surprised me with some of his answers, and clearly made up some lost ground after his less than vibrant appearance in the first debate.
It is fair to say the President brought his A-minus game to the debate this time. It was a refreshing improvement over the first debate, although even in using a more aggressive style, Obamaâ€™s voice and physical positioning still seemed somewhat anemic. If his goal was to prove he was in the race and ready to cut Romney down to size, he came pretty close to succeeding. The content of his answers were far better in this showing than the first, and he was clearly well prepared enough to demonstrate a previously missing comprehension of how his comments have been interpreted on the campaign trail and in the first debate.
The President managed to not directly answer most of the questions that were asked of him. Of all the well thought questions that were asked by independent voters in the debate, I thought the following were especially valuable:
- Is seeking lower gasoline prices part of the policy of the Department of Energy? (Obamaâ€™s answer: presented his energy policy. Never answers the question)
- What plans do you have to put back and keep jobs here in the United States? (Obamaâ€™s answer: create new jobs, lower the corporate tax rates, double our exports, focus on high-skill high-wage jobs, especially in Manufacturing)
- What has your administration done or plan to do to limit the availability of assault weapons? (Obamaâ€™s answer was to find ways to reduce violence in general, and to seek a new assault weapon ban)
- Would you deal with immigrants living here without a green card as productive members of society? (Although Obama never directly stated it, reading between the lines his answer is â€œyesâ€)
Obama’s 2 Best Answers
1) Responses on the Benghazi issue were probably the Presidentâ€™s strongest segment of the debate. He managed to score big points by getting the moderatorâ€™s confirmation that he had, in a Rose Garden speech the day after the consulate was overrun and four Americans were murdered, made reference to â€œacts of terrorâ€ when talking about the attack. A more careful reading of that speech later shows that the reference was vague and not apparently directed toward this attack. He took umbrage (thatâ€™s about as strong a word that works for me in this debate) in Romneyâ€™s attacks on his Secretary of State â€œteamâ€ and fired back that his comments, which suggested misdirection or political cover up, were offensive.
The best part was his reiteration of comments earlier Tuesday from campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki that he was fully responsible for the failures that led to the deaths at the American Embassy in Benghazi. This statement was unexpected and for some a breath of fresh air. However, since the Secretary actively took the fall on Monday, it seems unlikely that this position was the go-forward model until early today (likely after so much was said about Clintonâ€™s statement Monday). That said, it will likely play well with a lot of people. It will be interesting to see whether Clinton holds her position for very long despite the Presidentâ€™s new â€œthe buck stops hereâ€ attitude.
2) Another surprise and relatively strong answer came regarding the question on assault weapons. Although Obamaâ€™s answer was essentially that he would continue to seek a new ban on assault weapons, he presented his position within the context of treating the Second Amendment as real and meaningful. He acknowledged not only hunting, but also personal defense as proper reasons to own firearms. By eventually casting Romney as an early enemy of gun owners (which Romney managed to work his way around), he cast himself somewhat further to the right than Romney. He spent more time moving focus away from guns and onto â€œreducing violenceâ€.
Frankly, this is an area that concerns me, even though both candidates advocated this, because there are a number of policies that can be affected in the name of â€œreducing violenceâ€, each of which can lead to additional invasions of individual rights. It would be helpful to see more details around this topic, and high hopes that eugenics, hyper-pacifism and anti-psychotic medications are not part of the Presidentâ€™s plan.
Obama’s 2 Best lines
- â€œWhen folks mess with Americans, we go after them!â€
- â€œIâ€™m the one thatâ€™s ultimately responsible!â€
Mitt Romney (Justin Arnold)
From beginning to end Romneyâ€™s performance was a continuation in every way of his first highly impressive performance. He was in full command of the issues and his agenda, never got tripped up, dominated on his strong suit (the economy), and more than adequately handled issues that could have been pitfallsâ€”namely immigration and how he was different that President Bush.
In my view tonight’s debate will have a decisive impact on the end game of this election, I will explain further in the summary, but first here is a quick re-cap of Romneyâ€™s night.
Romney’s 2 Best Lines
- After a testy exchange on Obamaâ€™s energy policyâ€”â€œThe proof of whether a strategy is working or not is what the price is youâ€™re paying at the pump. If you are paying less than you were a year or two ago then well the strategy is workingâ€¦but you are paying more. When the president took office the price here in Nassau was $1.86 a gallon, now itâ€™s almost $4 bucks a gallon.â€
- In response to Obama saying that Romneyâ€™s tax plan doesnâ€™t add upâ€”â€œWhen weâ€™re talking about math that doesnâ€™t add up, how about $4 trillion in deficits over the last four years? Thatâ€™s math that doesnâ€™t add upâ€
Romney’s 2 Best Answers
Romney had several on the economy that were fantastic and could have been chosen, but, in order to provide a feel for the other topics, here are two non-economic ones that stood out:
1) In answering a question of how specifically he was different than G.W Bush (whom the questioner did not like), Romney was ready and ticked off four quick points. The last three of these were: â€œIâ€™m gonna crack down on Chinaâ€”President Bush didnâ€™t. Iâ€™m gonna get us to a balanced budgetâ€”President Bush didnâ€™t. And my focus will be on small businesses. We (Republicans) have been the Party of big business for too long.â€
2) Romney took a question on gun control and re-phrased it to address social values in Americaâ€”â€œHow are we going to change the culture of violence we have? (One way is) parents. We need moms and dads helping raise kids, wherever possible having the benefit of two parents in the home, though itâ€™s not always possible. We have a lot of great single moms and great single dadsâ€¦.but gosh, to tell our kids before they have babies they ought to think about getting married to someoneâ€”thatâ€™s a great idea.â€
The President made up a lot of ground last night and came off as more in control and Presidential than he did in the first debate. This debate was a toss-up, but there is likely to be some improvement in the Presidentâ€™s polling numbers. This debate was the turning point that forestalls Romneyâ€™s gradual improvement over Obamaâ€™s numbers, which means itâ€™s unlikely that the Governor is going to run wildly away from the President and instead will likely continue to be a very close race with no clear â€œwinnerâ€ to be determined until late on Election Night.
But there is one more debate. You never know.
Iâ€™m just going to cut straight to the chase and make two predictions, one bold and the other bolder, and then walk through how I arrived there. The first is that Barrack Obama cannot decisively beat Romney in a debate this cycle, and the second is that Mitt Romney won the Presidency tonight.
The main reason Obama cannot prevail over Romney in a debate is that the numbers are simply so bad in so many areas of American life (high unemployment, high gas prices, high food prices, massive deficits and debt) that President Obama is just constantly playing defense and is reduced to saying we need to â€œbuild onâ€ the last four years. Perhaps this would work to defeat a lesser candidate with a lighter resumeâ€¦but not Romney.
The second reason is that Romney is a very good debater. He has a knack for answering questions by ticking off numbered lists that both plays very well and leaves the question â€œfeelingâ€ answered. More importantly thoughâ€”whether you like Romney or notâ€”he just exudes competence. Thatâ€™s as simple as I can put it. It comes from a life experience of solving problems, making decisions in public, and having personal success. This â€œexudingâ€ dynamic, ironically, is what we saw four years ago with Obama but it wasnâ€™t competence he was exuding but rather vision, charm, and charisma.
The reason that I see Romneyâ€™s edge sticking and cementing a November victory is that the first debate gave Romney the lead he has nowâ€”and only a decisive Obama debate victory can wipe it out. With so little time left, and Obama in my view unable to deliver said victory, a vast majority of Independents and undecided voters will break for Romney. This sect of voter has been looking for an alternative to Obama (they havenâ€™t committed to him for a reason) and Romneyâ€™s performances have now given them this reason twice. I realize this differs with the way many talking heads saw it, and my own publisher, but I am looking big picture here and not just taking this 90 minute moment in time on its own.
I am far from a Republican cheerleader, separate from the Party on multiple issues, and call them out consistently when warranted. I have to call it like I see it and feel itâ€”and this is as sure as I have been of victory since the Primary process began. I have been highly skeptical and lacking in hope at points along the wayâ€¦but not tonight.