President Obama woke up. In last night’s debate, he was feisty and factual, conveying that he actually wants another four years and that he is engaged enough to do the job. Mitt Romney, stylistically, didn’t give an inch. He was aggressive, bordering on rude and offensive (to the President and the moderator) but, on most issues, didn’t stand up to the President on substance. That said, neither did particularly well on conveying how he would actually break through Washington gridlock and implement his respective values.
A high point for the President was when Mitt Romney charged that Obama failed for two weeks to link the killing of Americans in Benghazi, Libya to terrorism. Obama countered that the day after the attack, in the Rose Garden, he had done so and called on Romney to check the transcript. Moderator Candy Crowley confirmed Obama’s version, in effect doing a little fact checking on the spot.
The President did a good job punching holes in Romney’s nearly $5 trillion tax cut, showing how the deficit could not be filled by as yet unspecified elimination of deductions, credits and exemptions. The numbers do not add up, though I wish Mr. Obama would use the word as arithmetic not math to elucidate the elementary nature of the point.
On issue after issue, the President was stronger. He took a more practical approach to energy, with clearcut analyses of why Romney was wrong. Both men avoided answering some questions and gave misleading answers to others, but the fact checkers will more often fault the challenger.
Obama offered a more comprehensive approach to violence though I wish he had been more specific on reinstituting the assault weapons ban. He articulated a more reasoned policy on immigration, with Romney trying to soften his primary season call for “self-deportation” of 12 million undocumented individuals, encouraging that outcome by making things much tougher here for illegal immigrants and the employers who hire them.
The President made a pretty good stab at linking women’s health issues to their economic opportunities. And, at the end, the President made up for his woeful failure in the first debate to remind people of the contempt that Romney showed at a private fundraiser for the 47 percent of Americans who get something from the government.
Romney probably persuaded some by selecting data to indicate how bad the past four years have been and warning that, without a change, the next four years would not be better.
The debate was a much needed victory for Obama, but nowhere as decisive as Romney’s in the first round and this performance alone doesn’t put him back on the glide path before the debates began.
Too many self-declared undecideds saw Romany’s sketchy five point plan as an indication of presidential leadership. This could be devasting to a President many of whose own supporters have fauted him for lack of leadership in dealing with Congress and in articulation his own clear agenda beyond more of the same.
The debate probably stopped much of the bleeding, but I assume that audience was smaller and many of those Obama wanted to reach were pursuing the pleasure of watching the Tigers beat the Yankees.
Polls over the next few days could give a tentative indication of where battleground state support is trending among the handful of undecideds and those “leaners” whose support is still fluid.