Romney Takes Charge
ICYMI, our moderator was 193-year-old Jim Lehrer, who went into the auditorium at the University of Denver, sat at a desk, and let Mitt do his thing. First it was John King, now Jim—I’m waiting for the moderator at the next debate to ask Mitt for permission to use the bathroom.
President Obama, buoyed by strong polling numbers, seemed to come in with a strategy of playing it safe, giving calm policy answers, and trying to remain above the fray. As the president, he is used to polite and respectful discussions where everyone follows protocol. Mitt Romney is an alpha male finance CEO. He’s not afraid of hostile takeovers. He pulled one on Jim Lehrer.
This debate, while devoid of guidance (and kind of a good metaphor of what happens when CEOs like Mitt can run wild in unregulated markets— they are free to stomp on necks and take names later), did have some decent moments of policy discussion, on things like the corporate income tax, specifics of Dodd-Frank and Romney endorsing Bowles-Simpson.
The president’s problem was that even when he technically won individual arguments on their merits, Mitt often made his case with so much more confidence and clarity that a casual viewer would think he was obviously the expert. President Obama may have a better product, but Mitt was a far superior salesman. The president didn’t even look like he was buying what he was trying to push on us.
President Obama stammered while citing data sets; Mitt looked straight into the president’s eyes, misdirecting and making up scenarios, and just daring him to say something. Instead, Obama looked down with a weird smile, which can work at the World Series of Poker, but not so much in American politics. It made him look like a junior partner being scolded by the CEO.
Over the last four years, the president has mostly been in meetings where everyone is trying to work together for a common goal. Over most of his career, Mitt has been in meetings where he was trying to kick the ass of the guy across the table. Match them up in a 1-on-1 debate, effectively remove the moderator, and you can see how they respond.
We can blame the president’s lack of preparation (I agree with Jeffrey
Goldberg that Netanyahu would have been the best sparring partner—especially for the foreign policy debate), his apparent disinterest in being there or the stress of the job, but there’s no excuse for backing down, especially to someone as smug as Mitt Romney.
Mitt is down in the polls both because he can’t keep his foot out of his mouth—see his 47 percent tape and his talk of “harvesting” companies, as well as the fact that the St. Paul Ryan Budget/Prayer for Economic Miracles is unpopular with older voters.
Obviously aided by the CEO’s own words, President Obama was having a lot of success painting Mitt Romney as a heartless number-cruncher happy to throw people out on the street and let them die of cancer just so he could stack more money in his Cayman Islands accounts. In cartoon form, something like this.
The president had saved the auto industry from guys like Romney who wanted to let it go bankrupt (Mitt wrote a famous op-ed which sealed Michigan for Obama long ago), which was a nice frame for him to cast himself as someone fighting for the average worker against Wall Street bullies like Willard Mitt Romney.
Unfortunately, when it came time to take on the big bad boss, President Obama was nowhere to be found.
Paul Ryan didn’t really come up until the second half of the debate. The killing of Osama bin Laden waited until the very end, and was immediately eclipsed by a rather depressing and overly humbling closing statement. There is a time and place to be self-deprecating; when you are getting smirked at and almost mocked by a pompous CEO, that’s when you need to stand your ground and pound your chest. Mitt was on such an alpha roll, that when he thanked President Obama at the end of the debate, I thought he was about to ask Michelle out for (non-alcoholic) drinks after.
In the biggest surprise of the debate, one dedicated to domestic policy, the 47 percent tape didn’t come up at all. I won’t blame Jim Lehrer—although I would have loved to hear him ask Gov. Romney about “a computer movie emailed from a chat line”—but President Obama made his biggest blunder of an unmemorable evening by not bringing it up. The tape’s impact on the race has been proven since its release, and it’s been a very effective tool with which to hammer Mitt’s entire mentality, and has been used this way in campaign ads such as this one.
The president’s failure to talk about the 47 percent tape is inexcusable and deserving of all the “typical weak Al Gore Democrats” insults. He ramped up to this debate running against the evil downsizing, outsourcing and money hoarding boss who resents the average American and when it came time to can’t claim to stand up for them, couldn’t even call Mitt out on his mean-spirited dismissal of half of this country’s work ethic and moral character.
President Obama comes from a world where you earn respect. Mitt Romney comes from one where you take it. The president makes the sound, logical and (to me) convincing argument that he inherited a disaster, has done a lot to fix it, admittedly not as much as he promised, but he’s trying his best.
To paraphrase a wise man, losers talk about trying their best. Winners close the deal. Mitt the CEO won Wednesday's session by taking charge and calling the shots. In other words, being the boss.
Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of the debate here.
Reach Staff Columnist Matt Pressberg here.