Whenever we analyze the content of presidential debates, we must observe the event with two distinct lenses; one with the lens of a political horserace analyst and another with the lens of a conservative.
In terms of the horserace, this one is real simple. The debate was somewhat of a draw and will not fundamentally alter the current trajectory of the race (which currently favors Romney).
Most debates do not result in one candidate surging in the polls. Both candidates usually stick to their talking points in tight two-minute sound bites. Most of the details of their responses only serve as fodder for political junkies, not the average voter. The first presidential debate was different because Romney scored a knockout punch. It moved the polls and fundamentally altered the course of the race. Obama needed to put in a similar performance to change the dynamic. While he came across as more aggressive than in the last debate, Romney was just as aggressive in responding. Any perceived draw will benefit the current leader in the race, which is Romney.
Moreover, I believe that the superlative and decisive moment came at the end of the debate. The last question was a gift to Romney (in a debate when most of them were gifts to Obama), and Romney delivered. It played into the entire dynamic of the race.
As everyone has already observed, this race should be unwinnable for Obama. He has totally failed, the economy is languishing under a record protracted period of stagnation, and there is no hope and change in the air. No president has ever won reelection with this record. What has kept Obama virtually tied in this race is his successful character assassination of Romney. The last voter in the audience asked the candidates to name one misconception about themselves that they would like to dispel. This question allowed Romney to speak directly to the voters in a very human demeanor. It came off very well. Meanwhile Obama said that he is mischaracterized as a lover of big government when in fact he appreciates free enterprise. Does anyone think that a single voter will buy that?
The bottom line is that Romney needed to come across as steady and likeable, and he largely succeeded. Obama needed to make the case for a second term. Instead, Romney reminded voters of the disasters from his first term.
In terms of conservative policy, this debate was a mixed bag for us. Granted that the townhall format never benefits our side. The networks choose liberals dressed up as undecided voters who generally want to know what government will do for them. Democrats will win the bidding war every time. The job of a Republican, as arduous as it is in this format, is to deracinate the entire premise and show how big government is hurting the average consumer, job creator, employer and taxpayer. Unfortunately, Romney gave in to the premise of government intervention concerning the issues of education and “women’s pay” (a no-win issue for our side because the entire premise is false). He went full protectionist on the issue of trade and outsourcing instead of explaining how Obama is the consummate outsourcer with his policies of taxation, regulation, litigation, and picking winners and loser – policies which chase away business. He even mentioned that he would support tariffs.
It should be noted that where he stood for small government and conservative principles, he came across as amicable. He crushed Obama on energy policy and took him to task for his anti-drilling and anti-pipe line policies like nobody has done before. He dropped in family and God in a campaign that has been devoid of both. He finally lambasted Obama for Fast and Furious after Obama was forced to take a question on guns, which undoubtedly made him uncomfortable as he is trying to win many pro-gun voters. He did a good job illustrating an example of how we recovered from a recession with conservative policies by citing the Reagan recovery.
However, there were a number of missed opportunities. The biggest one was when he failed to nail Obama for lying on Libya. It didn’t help that Crowly jumped in and lied by insinuating that Obama believed the Benghazi attack was a terrorist act. Romney also missed the boat on immigration by agreeing to the premise of the Dream Act and even saying for the first time that he would let all those children of illegals not only stay in the country, but obtain citizenship. Never mind the chain migration that will ensure when they can petition to legalize their parents and extended families. He failed to turn the issue around and show how these lawbreakers are undermining our immigration system and depleting our social programs. Additionally, he missed an opportunity to pin the economic disaster on the disastrous housing policies, while Obama was busy blaming the recession on Bush.
Again, the format didn’t lend itself to uprooting erroneous premises because many of the questions came straight from Democrat blog sites. It also didn’t help that the moderator didn’t let Romney respond to some of Obama’s attacks, even though Obama held a 3-4 minute lead in talking time throughout the debate.
The next debate will benefit Romney with the more serious format. However, he must show a willingness to offer a cogent conservative critique of Obama on foreign policy the same way he does with regards to economic policy.
In conclusion, Romney should still be poised for a narrow victory in three weeks, as long as nothing else changes the course of the campaign. This debate will not change anything. In fact, despite the slim majority who thought Obama won the debate according to the snap polls, Romney won on the economy, deficit, healthcare, and taxes. However, it underscores the need for conservatives to assert themselves over Romney’s policy agenda, even while savoring the defeat of the messiah.
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