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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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