Will Wilkinson's verdict:
Romney won decisively. Obama clearly approached the debate with a mainly defensive strategy, hoping to come away without having done anything to rock his very comfortable boat. But the boat did rock. Obama was flummoxed by Romney's superior preparation, intensity, and execution, and tonight's truly dismal performance from the president has put the sustainability of his lead in question, if not actually in peril.
Joyner concurs that Romney won:
I say this as someone who thought Al Gore and John Kerry easily won all the debates in 2000 and 2004–and certainly thought Obama beat McCain in 2008. I don’t think it’s likely to radically change the dynamics of the race in the key battleground states. But Romney was cogent and prepared while Obama seemed as if he had been up all night and then told he had a surprise debate.
Fallows watched the body language:
If you had the sound turned off, Romney looked calm and affable through more of the debate than Obama did, and the incumbent president more often looked peeved. Romney's default expression, whether genuine or forced, was a kind of smile; Obama's, a kind of scowl. I can understand why Obama would feel exasperated by these claims and arguments. Every president is exasperated by what he considers facile claims about what he knows to be impossibly knotty problems. But he let it show.
Alex Massie thought Romney gave Obama "an old-fashioned ass-kicking":
[I]f you play not to lose you often end up losing. That was Obama’s problem this evening. Now it may not matter in grand electoral terms but Democrats have cause to be appalled by Obama’s performance while Republicans will leave Denver believing, at least for a day or two but perhaps for longer than that, they’re right back in this and that Mitt has a little bit more than just a puncher’s chance.
Joe Klein was "mystified" by Obama's performance:
Did the President send out his body double tonight? Because if that was the actual Barack Obama out there, I’m not sure he can communicate well enough to be an effective President in a time of trouble, to say nothing of winning a second term.
Sam Wang expects that the debate won't fundamentally alter the race:
I suspect the race will stay where it is now, maybe narrow by a point. Stalemate. Which is not what Romney’s party needed.
Larison suspects Romney's performance "was likely not enough to lower his high unfavorability rating":
Romney came across as competent enough, but as usual he also came across as insufferably smug. Considering how important the debate was for Romney, he did as well as he possibly could have hoped, and that will be reflected in the coverage of the debate tonight and tomorrow.
Lisa Schiffren thought Romney had a great night:
[Romney] sounds way more plausible and committed to the middle class than he sometimes has. And he is exuding confidence as he explains policies and programs to meet the stated goal. Mitt is doing the important thing: he is making substantive arguments, and destroying his opponents arguments, without going down into the weeds. Furthermore, his inflections are perfect, and it is easy to listen to both the content and the feeling.
Mitt Romney stood and delivered the best debate performance by a Republican presidential candidate in more than two decades.
Josh Marshall wonders if the press will call out Romney on his lies:
Obama simply hasn’t pressed any points where Romney said things that were demonstrably false. A bit on his tax cut plan, but not much. But how does it play over the next week? Romney’s been holding back all the details on his plans, basically refusing to talk about him. He’s put a lot on the table here, made a lot of claims which simply don’t add up. Obama hasn’t pressed the falsehoods or math that doesn’t make sense. Does the press do it tomorrow? How well do these claims wear? That’s how we’ll know how each did.
Along those lines, here's a highlight from Wonkblog's live fact-check of the debate:
Romney said his web site has a “lengthy description” of his health-care plan. In fact, it’s only 369 words. He also said it covers preexisting conditions. It doesn’t. Romney wouldn’t cover preexisting conditions for Americans who fall uninsured for periods of time, which happened to 89 million Americans between 2004 and 2007.
Jackie Calmes also catches Romney bending the truth:
Mr. Romney says Mr. Obama doubled the deficit. That is not true. When Mr. Obama took office in January 2009, the Congressional Budget Office had already projected that the deficit for fiscal year 2009, which ended Sept. 30 of that year, would be $1.2 trillion. (It ended up as $1.4 trillion.) For the just-finished fiscal year 2012, which ended last week, the deficit is expected to be $1.1 trillion — just under the level in the year he was inaugurated. Measured as a share of the economy, as economists prefer, the deficit has declined more significantly — from 10.1 percent of the economy’s total output in 2009 to 7.3 percent for 2012.
Ambinder's take on why Obama underperformed:
Why didn't Obama do better? Here's some speculation: He is not as good at these formats like Romney is. He was too cautious … even about appearing too flip and arrogant, which might have itself come off as arrogant; he didn't clip his answers; he didn't remember to say what he intended to say; he spent the day dealing with Turkey and Syria; he let his disdain for Romney show. I think all of those contributed to some degree. But fundamentally, when it comes to domestic policy, Obama just doesn't have a very good affirmative argument to make. That's a consequence of being a crisis president of a country where, as some are now saying, the old dismal is the new normal.
Kevin Drum thought Romney won, narrowly:
[N]ow that I'm listening to the talking heads, it seems that there's a pretty fair consensus that Obama lost by a bunch. I'll stick to my guns on this: I think Obama lost by a little, but not by much.
Sprung is also unsure that "that this debate was quite as bad for Obama as the general consensus." But:
The media narrative is almost unanimous, and John Sides et al tell us that that drives public opinion more than the debate itself (though the opposite seemed true in many Bill Clinton speeches; is reception of speeches different in that regard?). So we'll see how much this moves the polls.