Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A draw may be a Romney win

The consensus on last night's Presidential debate seems to be that it was a draw. To be sure, supporters of each candidate will think that their man did a better job, but its hard to see that viewers without an a priori perspective would see an advantage for one candidate over the other. But there are two dangers for the President.

First, while he was not as bad as Joe Biden, he apparently thought it his prerogative to interrupt Governor Romney whenever he did not like what he was hearing - even to the point of complaining about Romney's decision to respond to an earlier question before answering the one put to him. As one tweeter put it, "Stop Romney before he says something true."

That may have been a problem. The incumbent has a great advantage in these things in that he wears the dignity of the office. A challenger has a tough challenge in attacking someone who he must address as "Mr. President."

But there is a burden that goes with this. The incumbent must act "Presidential." Interrupting your opponent and complaining about time - even when you are clearly getting the advantage on the clock - is diminishing.

Second, once again, the Obama-Biden ticket stepped in it on Libya. The President twisted his own remarks immediately following the attack in Benghazi to imply that he immediately recognized that it was a terror attack. The implication is that he acknowledged that this was an organized operation undertaken by an organized terror group and not a grassroots response to a video denigrating Islam.

No, he didn't.

Mickey Kaus includes the transcript here. The President denounced the attack and the made references to denigration of religion (an obvious reference  to the video) and claimed that such denigration does not justify violence. This expressly links the video to the attack. He went on to  mentioned 9-11 and then said that the US wouldn't be deterred by acts of terror. That final reference is, as Kaus points out,  ambiguous and perhaps intentionally so. In the days that followed, the President, Secretary of State and Ambassador of the UN, among others, kept suggesting that the attack was a reaction to the video as opposed to organized terrorist activity.

They did so, it can be argued, for political purposes. The President intended to campaign for re-election on the theme that "Osama bin-Laden is dead." While this was a well deserved bit of retribution, it did not end the war on terror and may not, given bin Laden's diminished capacity, have been more than a symbolic victory in that war.

But the President wanted to claim that it was much more. That al-Qaeda or groups associated with it were able to kill a US Ambassador on the anniversary of 9-11 undercuts his preferred narrative. This is why the administration preferred to suggest that the attack was the product of a grass roots uprising in response to a "shocking" video. Can't be blamed for that.
So, whether intentionally or from confirmation bias, they pushed the video story even though they knew or should have known it was false. For the President to suggest otherwise, flies in the face of the facts.

Candy Crowley was wrong, both on the facts and in her role as moderator, to come to his support. Indeed, she seemed to almost immediately recognize that she had made a mistake - at least in judgment. Because that was such a jarring moment in the debate, her intervention may, ironically, give the story of the President's misrepresentation more legs.

But Governor Romney disappointed here too. His exchange with the President was fine, in and of itself, but the should have been prepared to directly address his remarks and tick off a litany of the administrations post attacks distortions - distortions that went on for  a week - in much the same way that he earlier delivered a devastating precis of the Obaman economic record.
Up to that, my scorecard, doing the best I could to put aside my own perspective, was that Romney had a touchdown lead. I think the missed opportunity brought the contest to even.

There is something in a draw for the President. It may stop the bleeding associated with his last performance and the narrative surrounding it. But there may have been in it for Governor Romney.

If undecided voters are prepared to break against the President, the most important thing they need to see is a reason to vote for Romney. They need to see that he is Presidential and not the ogre that Obama's campaign has tried to portray him to be. In Denver, he clearly bested the President. In Hempstead, he appeared to be, at worst, "just as good." For voters ready to punish the President for a bad economy, the latter may be all it takes.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin


Anonymous said...

Herr Professor Spindoctor. CNN poll says Obama won, 46-39. Poll sample was registered voters and skewed more Republican than the electorate as a whole. CBS poll of uncommitteds says Obama won, 37-30 (remainder says a draw). Microsoft X box poll says Obama won 51-17.

Both candidates interrupted each other, but Romney did so more, and he violated the rules of engagement by directly asking questions of Obama.

The Benghazi/Libya thing is much ado about a tragedy that is not the President's fault. Obama neglected to mention that it was the Republicans cut his proposed diplomatic security budget. Overall he was the winner on a debating point that should never have been made into a debating point in the first place. Romney attempted to politicize this issue on day one; that attempt, as the President pointed out, was offensive.

You can say this was a draw. Dream on.

Anonymous said...

Willard presidential? Puh-lease. The guy couldn't tell the truth to save his soul. Willard appears to think rules are for other people--not for someone as important as he is.

Anonymous said...

I concur with the Professor's sober analysis. Only time will tell whether this helped stopped the President's hemorrhaging; however, I don't think Anons 10:21 and 1:54 were previously undecided voters but, rather, Obama enthusiasts who are bloody elated by his performance last night.

Anonymous said...

That would be correct, and why shouldn't we be elated? The President was presidential. If anybody "stepped in it on Libya," it was Willard Mitt. Adjectives that describe his performance of last night are "peevish," "rude," and "entitled." His brand of snake oil isn't selling, and the election is three weeks away.

Anonymous said...

..."but its hard to see that viewers without an a priori perspective would see an advantage for one candidate over the other."

Yet, the majority of your post suggests otherwise. This notion that Obama is not acting "presidential", I could easy say that you as an educator are not acting professional. It would be JUST as foolish to make that comment.

"So, whether intentionally or from confirmation bias, they pushed the video story even though they knew or should have known it was false."

Confirmation bias, that's a good one, coming from a partisan! Yes, Obama is not faring too well with this Libya fiasco, fine. But the problem with him and Romney is that their handlers, the so-called campaign experts, and their hatchet-men are bungling opportunities for either candidate to pull ahead.

The election will be razor thin close.

Anonymous said...

Willard was snobbish at best. Phony is probably more accurate. He is so full of bullpuckey (the hooey reference to his Chief of Staff, Benghazi, "Have you checked your pension?") that it's no wonder the rats are jumping ship.

If we can't put PBS funding on the China credit card, how does he legitimately think we can put any of his budget-busting proposals on the China credit card?

Anonymous said...

The spin cycle in my washer is jealous, professor.

Anonymous said...

Obama did not look as apathetic as the last debate. However, I think he enjoyed the benefit of highly diminished expectations. Some of the snap polls had Obama as the winner, however it did not serve to swing many on the fence. The damage from the first debate will not likely be overcome. Obama can have a good debate, but cannot run away from his record. It is interesting that those who lean Obama do so for very superfluousness reasons. As an aside, I watched a focus group in which an "undecided voter" said she is now leaning Obama because of his stance on abortion & gay marriage. If these are her defining issues, their is no way she was an undecided voter, she was an Obama supporter from the get go. If those are your 2 critical issues you would not even look at Romney. I do not put much stock in the undecided voters. However, the Luntz focus group of former Obama supporters who are now undecided, showed a remarkable shift towards Romney. Again, I don't put much stock in this. The Fact that the Obama/Clinton/Biden team is barnstorming Wisconsin tells us something, the race has tightened here. If Gallup is correct- you will see the swing states atart to fall to Romney- & full attack mode from Obama will start. I agree with Rick, Obama fired up the base, looked alive to some independents & had a decent debate performance. But the discussion 2 days later is that Crawley was inept & that both candidates were contentious. Not enough to occurred to change the trajectory of the race. I expect Obama to have a good 3rd debate, and Romney will play cautious. The debates now are irrelevant.

Notice how I did not call anyone any names.

Scott David,
Wausau, WI

Anonymous said...

Repeatedly calling Mitt Romney by his given first name is as clever as repeatedly referring to Barack Obama by his middle name.

Anonymous said...

Indeed. Let us hope that references to "Willard" Romney will soon be as obscure as references to Pierre S. "Pete" DuPont IV -- and for the same reason.

But it certainly would be fun to see Dan Ackroyd calling him by his real name.

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