“Candy, what Governor Romney said just isn’t true.”
“And very little of what Governor Romney just said is true.”
“Not true, Governor Romney.”
“What you’re saying is just not true. It’s just not true.”
The President Obama who stepped out onto the stage last night was a man reborn. Fiery, aggressive, adversarial, the ‘town-hall’ debate Obama looked more like his old self from four years ago; disarming his opponent with quick winning lines and setting out a clear vision of what an Obama administration means for the 47% against what a Romney administration might do. Might being the operative word as Romney continues to fail to give a picture of what his first term would look like and often conflicts directly with statements he’s made before (Pell Grants anyone?).
President Obama took no prisoners during the debate; Candy Crowley, the CNN anchor, had almost as little control as Jim Lehrer proffered up in the first round and Mitt Romney looked increasingly flustered throughout proceedings; no more so than when the question of Libya came up. This should have been easy points for Romney in an area where he had been especially critical of the administration’s handling of the assassination of US Ambassador Stevens; instead it was an utter own-goal for the Republican candidate.
Romney and Obama had just sparred over where ‘the buck stops’ in terms of responsibility for the security of overseas diplomatic staff with Obama saying ‘Well, let me, first of all, talk about our diplomats, because they serve all around the world and do an incredible job in a very dangerous situation. And these aren’t just representatives of the United States; they’re my representatives. I send them there, oftentimes into harm’s way. I know these folks, and I know their families. So nobody’s more concerned about their safety and security than I am.’ Romney had come back and practically accused the administration, and the President, of deliberately misleading the American people over the nature of the attacks and then immediately engaging in political fundraising for the re-election campaign; Obama then gave perhaps his best retort of the night:
‘[..]the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief.’
With that, Romney utterly crumpled in front of an authoritative Commander-in-Chief flexing his muscles in the debating arena; what little credibility the Governor had on foreign policy evaporated totally at that point and he failed to recover in a meaningful way.
Another great moment came in a question from Susan Katz who asked about the differences between Romney and former President Bush the Younger; whilst Romney dissembled variously about ‘Bush having a different path for a different time’, Obama responded by both getting in a one-liner on China (‘Governor, you’re the last person who’s going to get tough on China‘) and highlighting the differences between the two Republicans quite clearly for his base:
‘You know, there are some things where Governor Romney’s different from George Bush. George Bush didn’t propose turning Medicare into a voucher. George Bush embraced comprehensive immigration reform. He didn’t call for self-deportation. George Bush never suggested that we eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.’
A dangerous line perhaps but an effective one; Obama readjusts the debate ground to reflect well on himself whilst continually attacking and painting his opponent as someone ‘worse than George Bush’.. something that may well resonate with the independent floating voter.
Finally, Obama’s closing argument packed the punch that was necessary. The 47% comment, noticed more for its absence in the first round, was duly trotted out and very cleverly in that, being in the closing remarks, Romney was unable to issue a rebuttal. The thoughts left in the minds of voters will be that, whilst Romney was harping on about God and the Olympics, Obama was talking directly to the ‘folks on Social Security who’ve worked all their lives, veterans who’ve sacrificed for this country, students who are out there trying to, hopefully, advance their own dreams, but also this country’s dreams, soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now, people who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don’t make enough income.‘
Obama had only to pull a draw with Romney to remain competitive; Romney had to score a decisive win in order to keep his campaign momentum moving. With even Fox News calling the debate a draw (and we all know what that means), I think there will be a very many people in the Romney camp who are nervously looking at their route to victory. My own thoughts would be that Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina are now beyond Romney’s grasps making his electoral arithmetic that little bit harder to compute.
Keep an eye out for the ‘Obama-bounce’ in the polls; how sustained they are, only watching will tell.