The first presidential debate produced a clear winner in Mitt Romney. Obama’s campaign failed at trying to spin the debate any other way, and even the President admitted he “had a bad night.” Romney was clear and forceful, and most importantly, presidential.
The two other presidential debates, including the one on Monday night, are difficult to call for either candidate, in part because Governor Romney had a different goal from that early October night in Denver. Romney went to Denver down in numerous swing state polls after being defined as an out-of-touch businessman through an onslaught of advertising by the Obama campaign throughout the summer.
Once Romney exceeded expectations far beyond what the mainstream media and conservative editorial writers envisioned, the polls shifted and the President’s campaign appeared to be in trouble. Millions of dollars in negative ads trying to paint Romney as out-of-touch were countered by a commanding debate performance that showcased Obama’s failed economic policies and Romney’s competence in explaining the problems and offering bold solutions.
Romney’s poll numbers improved dramatically, both nationally and in the swing states. There was no need in the second or third debate to score a knockout punch. Governor Romney had to act presidential, while President Obama, in need of a breakthrough, stayed on the attack. Romney accomplished this feat in both of the last debates, making Obama look like the petty challenger, going after Romney’s wealth and nitpicking each and every word of Romney’s answers.
Post-debate polls showed small wins for the President in the last two debates, with the second debate basically a tie and the third debate slightly more in the President’s favor.
These polls, however, measure the perception of viewers who have just seen the debate. Viewers are not thinking of the implications of each answer on the campaign narrative for the week, and are looking at the debate on a point-by-point basis. What is more telling is the impression the voters get from the candidates, on both character and issues.
While a CBS poll of undecided voters had Obama edging Romney in Monday night’s debate by seven points, sixty-five percent of poll-takers went away with the impression that Romney would be better to handle the economy, compared with thirty-four percent for Obama. As John King asserted that night on CNN, the President cannot win the election with numbers that bad on the most important issue in this election.
But something else about President Obama came out in all the debates, but particularly the last two, that has bothered me for a long time. Obama has come across as arrogant in how he responded to Romney and defended the last four years.
I enjoyed watching all of Obama’s attacks on Romney’s wealth cause the various networks’ instant reaction meters of undecided voters to flatline in every debate. I was certainly not surprised by those attacks, but I was surprised at the condescending, combative tone Obama decided to take in the final two debates.
In the first debate, Obama tried to look presidential and stay above the attacks. This strategy failed miserably, as Romney seemed much more presidential even with his argumentative persona. Obama’s first debate strategy made it difficult for him to turn into the attack dog in the next debates, causing numerous awkward moments where Obama seemed to forget he was President.
Obama responded to Romney’s claim that Navy ships had decreased under Obama’s leadership by saying, “Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed.” In an attempt to act as if Romney does not understand the Navy today, Obama came across as haughty and ready to declare victory based on that one line. Instead, Obama appeared less likeable, and certainly less presidential, even if the line “won” the exchange for the President.
Romney, on the other hand, stayed above the fray, and chose not to pick another battle with the President over the administration’s muddled response to the Benghazi, Libya terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The contrast here is stark: Romney took the role of president, while Obama waged an attack below the office he holds.
In the debate on Monday night, Romney only needed to look presidential to continue his meteoric rise with only two weeks until the election. Many commentators after the second debate came to a similar conclusion: Obama actually came to play, but Governor Romney still looked presidential. But the third debate was about foreign policy, which should have been an opportunity for Mr. Obama to project an image of a confident leader. Instead, he chose to attack.
People do not want to hear the tired political rhetoric Obama has provided thus far. They want to hear a plan for the next four years, a plan Obama does not have. In the foreign policy debate, he resorted to cheap shots at Governor Romney, failing to land any decisive blow to make Romney appear unfit to be president.
Less than two weeks from now, when all the ballots are counted, we will have a new President-elect: Romney. President Obama’s divisive and odd reelection campaign will be over. Constant class warfare will subside, and Romney’s optimism about America will take its place.
While the election appears close in many opinion polls, President Obama is in a terrible position as the incumbent. The few undecided voters left will likely break for Romney, per usual in presidential races where the vast majority of undecided voters this close to the election end up supporting the challenger.
President Obama has failed to slow the tide of Governor Romney’s rise over the last month, which all began on a Wednesday night in Denver. Romney became the President at that debate, projecting a firm leadership we need in Washington.
We’ve reached the end of a drawn-out campaign. Governor Romney has passed every test required to be president, and President Obama’s reelection team has failed to offer a coherent vision apart from its assaults on Romney.
Governor Romney has done precisely what he needed to do: come on strong in the first debate, and remain calm, cool, and collected in the last two. Sometimes, level-headedness wins.