There was no joy in Democratic Mudville after the first presidential debate. Romney came across as energized, happy and (even when wrong) confident while, with the exception of the first and last 2 minutes ― obviously well-rehearsed beforehand ― Obama looked distracted and occasionally nonplussed.
It often seemed like Obama was having trouble connecting his thoughts into a coherent idea. He sometimes seemed so taken aback by Romney’s freewheeling statements, denials or refutations that he momentarily verged on speechless.
After the debate, the commentators on MSNBC ― Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, Al Sharpton, Chris Hays, Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews ― ranged from disappointed and visibly stunned (Maddow, Hays, O’Donnell), to freely-expressed anger (Schultz, Sharpton and Matthews).
Clearly from a debate point of view, Obama was not only judged to have lost; he was deemed to have barely shown up.
Such was last night’s unanimous verdict from all the talking heads, whether gleeful Romney-ites, woeful Obamians, or the rare objective observers (one of which was David Gergen on CNN, always a joy to hear for intelligent, balanced thoughtfulness).
There is, however, some interesting counter-thought on this whole “Obama was crushed in the debate” meme.
Shortly after the debate, I spoke with my step-daughter, who had watched it at university with some friends. Their take-away was not so much that Romney out-performed Obama, but that Romney horribly disrespected moderator Jim Lehrer by metaphorically stepping all over him during the debate. Their bipartisan opinion was that Romney had been, at the least, extremely rude.
Some interesting observations could be taken away from CNN’s 39-member focus group of undecided Colorado voters hosted by Erin Burnett. (Introducing the focus group, and their sense of best and worst debate moments)
- All came to the debate focus group undecided.
- All intend to vote.
- All were ‘turned off’ when either candidate was perceived as criticizing the other.
- All came away wanting much more information than they got.
- Most were surprised by Obama’s lackluster performance and most felt that Romney won the debate, but nonetheless remained unpersuaded either way.
- 10 of the 39 claimed to have been swayed by the debate from ‘undecided’ to ‘leaning’ ― 5 for Obama and 5 for Romney; a ‘wash’.
After the debate was over, Republicans could only be described as jubilant. Democrats, crushed. This may not be the end of the story of the first debate, however, and Romney’s debate victory may yet turn out to be Pyrrhic. Morning-after debate analysis continues, since political pundits need something to do. Two things we’re beginning to hear:
- Fact-checkers are starting to dissect debate claims, and Romney is coming in for the most scrutiny.
- Romney’s treatment of Jim Lehrer does not appear to have helped his ‘likeability’. At all.
All sides ― parties, candidates, surrogates, journalists, pundits, bloggers, etc. ― are doing their spin and speculation, but note this: the first presidential debate of 2012 didn’t necessarily end at 11PM CDT. And the winner of this debate may not yet have been determined by the folks who are actually going to vote.