Mitt Romney is up six points on Gallup’s seven-day likely-voter tracker, 51–45. Romney is also winning the seven-day registered-voters poll, 48–46. These statistics are there to be broken, but it is worth pointing out for the record that, in the history of Gallup, no presidential candidate has ever been over 50 percent in mid-October and gone on to lose.
Topic: presidential debate
CNN’s Candy Crowley has always seemed like a tough, sharp and relatively fair reporter. So when she said earlier this week she was going to take an active moderator role in last night’s debate, that didn’t immediately seem like a bad thing. There’s no problem with an impartial moderator keeping the candidates on topic and pressing them with follow-ups.
But by the end of the night, it was clear Crowley had done damage to her own reputation of objectivity. It wasn’t just because of the Benghazi question, either. Matt Latimer lays out the instances of bias at the Daily Beast:
Apologies, O Ladies of the Internet.
Mitt Romney mentioned “binders full of women” in describing his (extremely successful) efforts to hire women for top-level jobs when he was governor of Massachusetts. We all knew exactly what he meant, but really; boo hoo hoo, sniff sniff sniff — the phraseology!
The post-debate polls taken last night seemed to more or less line up with the conventional wisdom forming on social media: President Obama won a narrow victory over Mitt Romney, helped late by escaping the Libya question—thought to be his Achilles’ heel—when Romney dropped the ball.
But that Libya exchange—in which moderator Candy Crowley intervened on Obama’s behalf and only afterwards seemed to realize that she had been wrong on the facts—also revealed the flip side of Romney’s lack of focus on Benghazi: his fluency and preparation for questions on the economy, and Romney’s continuing bet that the economy will overshadow the other issues in voters’ minds. Polls back this up, and the post-debate polls seemed to as well. While both the CNN and CBS polls gave Obama a hard-fought win on points, respondents to both polls gave Romney the win on the economy by wide margins. CBS reports:
When did President Obama refer to the Benghazi attack as an “act of terror”? According to Candy Crowley and White House spin artists, it was in his Rose Garden speech on September 12. But as I wrote last month, the reference was ambiguous at best. It was never clear whether Obama was referring to the Benghazi attack, the 9/11 attacks, the unrest across the Muslim world, or just terrorism in general.
President Obama didn’t repeat his mistakes in the first presidential debate in Denver two weeks ago. He looked interested in the proceedings on Long Island and responded strongly to attacks and got in plenty of stingers as well as making some clever tactical strokes at Romney’s expense. Romney had his moments, especially when speaking about the president’s economic failures. The Republican also missed some wide-open opportunities to nail the president on issues like the Libya terrorist attack. But that won’t necessarily translate into a complete reversal of the losses Obama experienced after their previous encounter. The question that pollsters will be wondering most about won’t be which of the two candidates scored the most points but whether the bruising and nasty tone of the confrontation turned off more voters than it engaged.
The president’s palpable anger at Romney was barely contained. He fulfilled the Democratic base’s desire to bash the GOP candidate relentlessly but he did so at times by taking the cheapest of shots such as a hypocritical swipe about Romney’s investments and by filibustering and taking up more than three minutes more of airtime than his opponent. Though he stopped short of repeating Vice President Biden’s bullying act last week, it’s far from clear that the most of the public — especially undecided voters — will regard the evening as anything but a muddled slugfest.
Democrats will be tuning into the presidential debate tonight in hopes of seeing a more aggressive performance from President Obama. For two weeks, we’ve heard little but endless analysis about what the president needs to do to improve on his performance from his first debate with Mitt Romney with most of it centering on his passivity in Denver. There was plenty to critique in what Obama did that night but the idea that his big problem was that he needed to muss up Romney’s hair says more about the disdain Democrats have for their opponents than it does about the president’s problem.
The expectation is that Obama will show up at Hofstra ready to mix it up with Romney but hoping to stop just short of Joe Biden’s bullying act at the vice presidential debate. It is doubtful that the evening will not contain mentions of Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe or attempts to question Romney’s credibility. But if that’s his main focus, he will be making a mistake. Contrary to what Democrats say, Obama’s main shortcoming in the debate was not his lack of aggression so much as it was his lack of interest as well as his disdain for the proceedings. What Americans sensed when they saw that debate was a man who thought having to explain his positions and record was beneath his dignity. Zingers at Romney’s expense tonight may help but they will avail Obama little if he cannot muster more respect for the voters.
There’s much talk to the effect that tonight Barack Obama needs to get “the vision thing” back. This is exactly wrong. After four result-free years, all this president has is the vision thing. What he needs is “the policy thing,” “the accountability thing,” or, you know, “the record thing.” Which is why he’s in a lot deeper trouble than the popular analysis suggests.
What he needs can’t be conjured in campaign headquarters, and it can’t be faked in front of a Mitt Romney who’s tuned up like a dazzling and encyclopedically informed one-man policy-review team.
In the last debate, Obama’s “vision thing” stuck out so bizarrely against the facts that it was revealed as “the mirage thing.” The mirage took shape with his first answer and only grew more fantastical as the debate proceeded. How, Obama was asked off the bat, did he intend to put America back to work? His answer: by supporting math and science in community colleges. Yet, the Washington Post’s’ supposed wonk wunderkind, Ezra Klein, thinks Obama is too strong on policy details and only weak on the big picture. Today, Klein writes that “Obama can’t describe what he wants to achieve, but he can tell you everything about how he’ll get it done.”
This is, of course, a perfectly reversed description of Barack Obama—in 2008, 2012, and always.
One of the more memorable moments from Wednesday’s debate came when Governor Romney doubled down on his pledge to cut federal grants to PBS. Bethany has already spoken to the notion that Romney doesn’t really want to kill Big Bird. And I certainly agree with Bethany that Sesame Street is a model program, one which brings in profit which allows PBS to fund other programs. That’s the way PBS should work. Nevertheless, Paula Kerger, the CEO of PBS, has already pushed back on Romney’s comments. “With the enormous problems facing our country, the fact that we are the focus is just unbelievable to me,” Kerger told CNN. “This is not about the budget, it has to be about politics.”
Actually, it is about the budget and about waste. Certainly, I grew up watching Big Bird. And, when I was 5, I also enjoyed the Electric Company, though when I see clips now, 35 years later on Hulu.com, I wonder what the heck I was thinking.
Even the self-proclaimed “fact-checkers” in the media can’t save President Obama from his dismal debate performance on Wednesday, but they gave it a try yesterday. Critics pounced on Mitt Romney’s claim that Obamacare would give an unelected board (known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board) decision-making power over what treatments patients can receive. According to the fact-checkers, this assertion was a blatant lie because, well, the Obama administration told them so.
Actually, the way the board will work isn’t clear-cut at this point, contrary to the reassuring promises of the Obama administration and “gotcha!” cries from fact-checkers. Megan McArdle knocks down the argument (read the whole thing) at the Daily Beast today:
President Obama’s supporters have been consoling themselves in the aftermath of his disastrous performance at the presidential debate in Denver by repeating over and over again that debates don’t really matter. If that didn’t work, they would say that the verdict of the people would differ from that of the pundits, although the unanimous opinion of even the left-wing crew at MSNBC and the wishy-washy liberal/establishment types on CNN should have worried them more than anything that was said on Fox News. But today we received the first answers to the question of whether public opinion will be altered to any degree by the debate, and the answers are not what Democrats wanted to hear.
The poll of likely voters in three key swing states taken yesterday by We Ask America shows a remarkable swing in favor of Mitt Romney. Previous surveys by this firm as well as virtually every other pollster in Florida, Virginia and Ohio had shown Obama holding on to a firm lead. But according to the latest numbers, Romney has forged ahead in all three states. The Republican leads Obama by a margin of 49-46 percent in Florida, 48-45 percent in Virginia and 47-46 percent in Ohio. All three results are significant and very good news for the Republicans, but none more so than that in Ohio. Romney’s rebound after a tough few weeks in which his leads in Florida and Virginia had been turned into deficits is clear. Obama’s growing strength in Ohio had been moving it from a swing state to one that was starting to be considered to be firmly in the president’s column. Romney’s post-debate bounce has put it back into play on Real Clear Politics’ Electoral College map.
It is telling that our expectations are so low these days that the latest dismal jobs report issued by the U.S. Labor Department is being viewed with some relief. It noted that the economy had added 114,000 jobs in September. That is, we are told, not so bad because that is around the figure most economists projected, even though it is below the total that is generally considered the number needed to account for normal population growth. The drop in the unemployment rate to the lowest point in the Obama presidency should not deceive us, because it is clear that many people have simply given up looking for work during what is the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. Though President Obama may choose to highlight the 24th straight month with job growth since the end of the recession he inherited from his predecessor, with 12.1 million Americans still unemployed, a drop in the number of manufacturing jobs and temporary employment, we may be closer to the next Great Recession than to genuine recovery.
This is hardly the sort of situation that would normally bode well for the re-election of any incumbent president. Yet since President Obama’s poll numbers went up rather than down after an even worse report last month, it would be foolish to assume these discoursing numbers will hurt him. Earlier this week, I referred to Obama as the real Teflon president, since neither the recent revelation about his past use of racial incitement nor the security screw up in Libya (and the subsequent lies about it from the White House) or even a bad economy seemed to be enough to dent his standing in the polls. Yet all it takes to burst a balloon is one sharp jab. After the president’s awful performance in the debate with Mitt Romney on Wednesday, it could be that Americans will start to view the president’s litany of disasters with less equanimity than before.
Earlier, I wondered whether Democrats would fall into a trap of their own making by goading President Obama into engaging in personal attacks on Mitt Romney in the next presidential debate. But it appears that some on the left prefer to return to one of their old standbys to explain the president’s flop in the debate: he’s a bad salesman for brilliant policies. That’s the tack taken by New York Times editorialist David Firestone today in a piece in which he argues that the president’s inability to defend his record on the stage in Denver is no different from what the writer considers the failures of Democrats to speak up for ObamaCare, the stimulus and even the sequester of funds that will results in huge defense cuts.
Firestone is right about one thing. The president does consider the act of explaining liberal projects to the public tiresome and somehow “beneath him.” But the Times writer fails to observe that liberals have actually been defending these ideas for all four years of the Obama administration. Their failure to gain support for them from the public isn’t the fault of Obama’s poor salesmanship, but due to the fact that most Americans, including those who distrust the Republicans, are wary of a huge expansion of government power, unchecked federal spending and gutting national defense. That is why the only successes Democrats have had in putting across their ideas hasn’t stemmed from championing these unpopular policies but from sliming their opponents. When they abandon such tactics, as Obama did last night, they are left with very little that the voters find compelling.
It’s the line from the election that liberals are clinging to–it’s the only one they can. Romney will kill Big Bird and destroy public television, robbing our children of the joy of Sesame Street. The world will become a sad, dejected place without Big Bird and his posse if Mitt Romney is elected president of the United States. Who could possibly want that? Obama is already hitting the stump with this message, and liberals have picked up the fight for Big Bird.
The actual Romney quote from the debate reads as follows:
I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That’s number one.
Does this mean Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird? Will Big Bird and his friends disappear off the airwaves? No, on both counts.
Among the alibis being promoted by Democrats in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s triumph in last night’s debate is that President Obama was unprepared for the Republican’s shift to the center. The president’s campaign rests on class warfare tactics in which Romney is portrayed not only as a heartless plutocrat but also as seeking to loot the middle class in order to give gifts to his fellow millionaires via tax cuts. Therefore, when Romney asserted in the debate that he had no plans to cut taxes on the rich or enact tax cuts that would increase the deficit, Democrats argue that the former law professor who now presides over the country was so flummoxed by the deception that he could offer no response.
It isn’t likely that many people, even those most devoted to Obama’s cause, will buy that excuse. A better explanation might be that once he decided to eschew the personal attacks on Romney that have been the hallmark of his campaign, the president was left with nothing to fall back on, since he is either uninterested in defending his record in office, or unable to do so. However, this line of inquiry does raise the question of how far to the center did Romney really shift in the debate? The answer is quite a bit, but no one should expect a Republican base that long distrusted Romney to abandon him. A year ago, when Romney was competing for the hearts and minds of the conservative base, his sidestep away from across-the-board tax cuts might have been fatal. But on the night when he reminded the right that he is the only person who can help them defeat Obama, it isn’t likely many are going to question his judgment.
Shell-shocked Democrats are still trying to figure out what happened to President Obama last night as he got his clock cleaned by Mitt Romney. Most of the post-mortems seemed to center on his lack of aggressiveness on stage and his failure to raise the sort of personal attacks on Romney that have largely characterized the Democratic campaign. The expectation now is that the next time Obama and Romney face off, the president will be more engaged and perhaps ready to attack the challenger in a way that will please his followers. But the question Democrats should be asking themselves today is not just what was wrong with Obama that caused him to be so lackluster, but whether an attempt to savage Romney in person will be such a smart idea.
While the president did mention some of his familiar class warfare themes, pundits were almost unanimous in expressing their surprise that the phrase “47 percent” never passed through the president’s lips. Liberals were also appalled by his omission of any mention of Romney’s Bain Capital experience or tax returns. But if the only lesson the president learns from his defeat in Denver is that he must double down on personal attacks on his opponent, he may be setting himself up for another drubbing on October 16.
Mitt Romney accomplished in one night of debate what the marquee names of the Republican Party couldn’t accomplish in three nights of the convention: he boosted his likability rating. A CBS News poll found that the percentage of undecided voters who say they feel Romney cares about their needs spiked by 33 percent after last night’s performance:
By a 2 to 1 margin, uncommitted voters crowned Mitt Romney the winner over President Obama in the first presidential debate in Debate, Colo., on Wednesday night, according to a 500-person instant poll taken by CBS News.
Perhaps most promising for Romney, whose upper-class income has helped stifle his ability to relate to the “average American,” the percentage of those polled who said they felt the former Massachusetts governor cares about their needs and problems spiked from 30 percent pre-debate to 63 percent post-debate. President Obama also enjoyed a bump in that category, with 53 percent of voters saying they believed he cares about their issues before the debate, moving to 69 percent after the debate. …
Uncommitted debate watchers saw Mitt Romney as the winner on handling the economy (60 to 39 percent) and the deficit (68 to 31 percent), just as they did before the debate. These voters also think Romney will do a better job on taxes (52 to 47 percent), a reversal from before the debate, when uncommitted voters gave the president a 52 to 40 percent advantage on that. The president still leads on Medicare, 53 to 45 percent.
Jim Lehrer for moderator-in-chief!
Did someone slip me a psychedelic mickey last night as I watched the debate? Because I have to say I was shocked to wake up this morning to find people on the right and the left agreeing that Jim Lehrer laid an egg, whereas I found it to be one of the best, most interesting, least infuriating debates in a long time. In fact, at several points, I found myself wishing out loud that all the debates could be moderated by Mr. Lehrer.
There’s one thing almost everybody can agree on: last night’s debate was a bloodbath, with Obama on the losing end of it. But re-watching some of the clips this morning, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what was so unusually great about Romney’s performance and what was so unusually awful about Obama’s.
The successes and failures are more easily spotted in the contrasts. Romney was more engaged, more enthusiastic, more lucid, more relaxed, and more cheerful than Obama. He looked like he actually enjoyed being there. Obama, in comparison, came off as more detached, rustier on the facts, and slower on his feet.
The COMMENTARY staff is live-tweeeting the presidential debate tonight. But come back throughout the evening as we add blog items as the evening progresses.