While Obama displayed a much-improved performance during tonight’s debate, Governor Romney still prevailed.
Certainly, there are substantive items to be sifted through in the days to come. But in a town hall debate, the approach and demeanor of the debating parties is as important as the answers provided. Obama came across as pushy and spoiled in answering many of the questions posed to him from the audience. Candy Crowley did a poor job in mediating the match and at one point actually challenged Gov. Romney on one of his assertions about Obama’s statements on Lybia. (To be sure, a journalist has the right to challenge people on their statements, that’s what they’re job is under normal circumstances, but NOT in a debate. If Gov. Romney ran afoul on a detail, then let his opponent raise the objection and deal with it.)
Many will mistakenly say that this was a stronger, more “take-no-prisoners” version of Obama (which is true). But he was fighting the last war. If the President had been this forceful in the prior debate he may have contested Gov. Romney to a draw. As it is, his performance tonight will do little to sway undecideds and the female vote.
Obama’s Strengths: The President was at his best when talking about women’s issues and to a lesser extent, immigration. While it is true that he failed to put forth an immigration reform bill during his first year in office (a fact that Romney effectively broadcasted all night), it seemed that this was a topic where the President felt the most comfortable. It is likely that he shored (to a small degree) the Hispanic and female voting block. Obama’s Weakness: I will spare you a 5-page analysis on this point, and simply say that any time the President was talking about (1) energy, (2) jobs, (3) taxes, or (4) debt, he was losing. His record is just too feeble for him to have credibility. When he launched into personal attacks on Romney and his investments, it looked petty and beneath the office of the Presidency. He forgets that even though Mitt Romney is running for the presidency, he is still a private citizen and is allowed to make investments in the same manner as everyone else (which, as it turns out, was the same thing that the President’s pension managers are doing). Attacking someone for having investments in a blind trust is just, well, weird. And to reiterate: Obama had poor optics tonight. He came across as someone constantly seeking to wag his finger in Gov. Romney’s face rather than answer the questions posed to him.
Romney’s Strengths: Romney did well on many fronts, most of all, dealing with jobs, government spending (deficit) and the economy. As discussed above, Obama simply doesn’t significant credibility when it comes to those topics. Romney did a effectively slowed down the debate to explain exactly why taxing the “rich” (as Obama would call them) is a bad idea because it is likely to burden small business owners. Gov. Romney also scored big on energy. It was deceptive for President Obama to say that oil production was up under his administration when he basically did everything he could to slow it down. Remember, this is someone how doesn’t mind that gas prices are high because it means that people will drive less, and thus, reduce greenhouse gasses. Towards the end, Gov. Romney also had a series of effective answers which showed his depth of character. Romney’s Weakness: Honestly, I think he had a solid performance. I’m biased, of course, so I don’t see the weaknesses as much as others. If I had to change one thing it would be to scale back the tendency of the Governor to ask President Obama questions when he had his turn to answer the questions. In my view, a debate provides precious minutes to drive home your policy positions and lay bare the flaws in your opponents’ record. Some of the back-and-forth will likely work out for Romney because he made the President get mad. That’s key in a town-hall style debate.