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First Debate Report: Where was the President?

First Debate 2012

I time my return to the world of political commentary fresh off three months of being trapped in the hospital right as things in the 2012 election get interesting. With the first presidential debate now behind us, I am both surprised and actually a little excited for the rest of the election season. Why? Well, let me grade the candidates and you’ll see why.

President Obama: D-

I’m not going to give the President a failing grade as some already are, but this was a very bad night for him. He appeared unprepared to defend his record, he couldn’t explain how his new promises were different than the old ones he didn’t deliver on, and he couldn’t keep eye contact or a straight face for more than a few minutes at a time. His surrogates are hiding after the debate, his spin doctor isn’t even pretending the debate was a win, and the President himself appears notable unhappy. My question is: What the hell happened? President Obama has been described as a “great speaker” (a claim I have disagreed with in the past), and charismatic (a claim I agree with). Tonight he was neither. He frowned, grimaced, looked at the podium when being addressed, and was all over the place with his meaningless stories about his grandmother that didn’t even address the points he had started talking about. No one learned anything new about the President tonight. No one found a new reason to vote for him. Instead we saw a President that was unable to explain why his policies of the last four years have failed to deliver what he said they would. He was unable to defend his economy. He was unable to counter Romney effectively when attacked, and totally unable to put Romney on the defensive. I can’t explain why Obama had such a poor performance tonight, and I was quite surprised by his lack of passion and charisma. When Bill Maher, James Carville, and Chris Matthews are saying the the President lost the debtate, you know things are bad for the Democrats right now. My prediction: Obama’s political strategists will unleash a whole new wave of mudslinging against Romney while he studies up for the next debate. He won’t make this mistake twice.

Mitt Romney: B-

This wasn’t the same Mitt Romney I watched (and complained loudly) about in the GOP debates. He’s been practicing, preparing, and apparently reading a lot. He came in with clear priorities, he knew exactly how to hit Obama on his policies and platform, and he even managed to keep his cool overall. This was a good night for Mitt Romney. I was surprised to see him able to put (and keep) the President on the defensive for the length of the debate. I was surprised at how well he knew the President’s budget and proposals and how he was able to compare them to his own. He didn’t do that during the GOP debates, but maybe he had been preparing for this the whole time. So why does he only deserve a B-? Well, he’s still Mitt Romney. He still spoke of relatively vague “plans” that will apparently fix all of our problems. He still appeared to want to light the President on fire with his glare at times. He still looks like your boss. However, let me be clear: Mitt Romney appeared more confident, more comfortable, and dare I say, more presidential than President Obama did tonight. If he can keep this up for the next month, it will be a very close election.

Big Bird: A+

In an election he chose not to run in, Big Bird has risen in national popularity in a matter of hours. His poll numbers would be up if we had polls on Big Bird to start with, and the twittersphere and tumblrverse are chock full of his picture. If I were Big Bird’s strategist, I couldn’t be happier tonight.

The Winner:

Mitt Romney. There’s simply no way to spin that debate to claim that President Obama won. Even the best Democratic spin doctors are calling it “a wash” or blaming poor moderation (they’re not incorrect about that, sorry Jim). This one’s a “L” in the Obama column, and they had better bring their A game next time if they want to stay ahead.

The Problem:

It’s a debate and I’m not sure that any shift it causes will be significant or lasting. We watched the GOP debates produce massive swings in the poll numbers for individual candidates, but the effects were fleeting. I have no doubt that this debate will cause a bump in Romney’s numbers in the short term, but will it actually change anyone’s mind in the grand scheme of things? The cynic in me says probably not.

That’s my take. Comment, question, or rant away.

-M

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