The Etch-A-Sketch Debate: Reader Reax II

First Presidential Debate

Seven yes/no questions are presented above, to gauge everyone's basic take on the debate. A reader writes:

You talk a lot about the long-game. So please put your long-game hat on once again. Think of the debate as a set of three debates and not as the first one being the only or the most important one. I think this is how the Obama team is and should be treating the debates. Romney comes from the B-school world of elevator pitches where only the first impression counts. This is also a universe where three-point action plans stand in for deep thinking and where free lunches abound. So Romney went all out to ‘win’ this round, madly shifting policy positions, making dodgy assertions and committing to specifics that his base abhors. Romney dodged and weaved impressively. But Obama forced him to take stances and policy positions. All these will be fact-checked to death and Romney will have to clarify, rationalize and reverse many of the things he said on stage with millions watching. What will emerge: a man willing to say anything to get elected which is precisely the image that the Obama team wants to reinforce.

Another wonders:

Isn't it possible Obama was thrown by Romney's complete reversals on issues like his tax cut, regulations, health care, and his dismissal of almost half the country? If Obama was prepared to take on certain positions and Romney was smiling that terribly insincere smile of his and announcing the opposite of what he's said for months and years, perhaps our president was caught off guard and had to rethink his strategy on his feet. All I could think of was how extremely decent people are shocked when others attack with lies. And that's what came across to me in Obama's flatness. Shameless liars are more resourceful and bouncy because they have no moral code constraining them. But Obama needs to figure out how to fight back without feeling he's abandoning his principles or humanity.

Another suggests that the Daily Caller "scoop" was a factor:

Angry black man – those three words are the whole debate tonight. If Obama got impassioned, angry at the lies that Romney was throwing, we get angry black man syndrome. They were prepping scaring this audience with angry black man.

Another possible factor:

Turkey and Syria. Turkey responds to a Syrian attack that killed civilians by bombing Syria hours before the debate. NATO is holding emergency meetings. The specter of real regional war looms. You and I both know that US special ops are in Turkey. The President doesn't exist in a bubble – I'd be a little distracted as well.


Here's what I think: this had to be performance art.  Obama's team must have known that cameras would be on him at all times, so they told him to keep looking down. They aren't stupid.  The bar was set low by previous comments, so they wanted a less-than-stellar-performance tonight.  Maybe they want to create a comeback moment in future debates, since America loves a comeback moment.  Romney gets his, and Obama gets his closer to the election.  The narrative tomorrow will be how Obama lost.  Hopefully, the next debates will be how he wins.  Is this their strategy?  I hope.

Another is really grasping:

What if Obama threw the debate?

Bear with me on this, but if Obama came out swinging and responded aggressively to Romney, the debate would have been at worse an inkling in Romney's favor, and the state of the race wouldn't change, meaning the smart money for the next month would move away from Romney and into House and Senate races. But if it looks like Republicans have a chance at the White House, they might devote more resources to defeating Obama, who has an advantage in fundraising that most congressional Democratic candidates do not. If he makes it look like Romney has a chance, he can siphon money away from those down-ticket races and put them to less efficient use in the Presidential race. I mean, Obama doesn't need to win big if it means he has just as obstructionist a Congress as the past two years.

Anyways, that's my uber-Machiavellian theory of the night. Obama's team is very smart, and not at all afraid of being aggressive in defense of the president's record. I am guessing (hoping) we're witnessing a game of rope-a-dope the likes of which we'll never see again.


I'm guessing Obama didn't mention 47% in this debate because his 47% TV ad has been saturating the airwaves in swing states for week. Why give Romney a chance to respond to it in front of a national audience?


I tend to agree with your reaction that Romney owned the debate from start to finish. That being said, the debate itself was boring, boring, boring. Both Romney and Obama were both mired in the minutia and I think this was likely a huge turn off for most casual viewers. Given this fact, in many ways, I think Romney's victory is entirely ephemeral – important to the chattering classes on the television, because it gives them the horserace story they love – but immaterial when it comes to changing the minds of actual voters.

Another offers some perspective:

I would avoid looking too much into the first debate. Incumbents suck at their first debate. George W Bush lost the first debate decisively. Ronald Reagan had such a massive senior moment that people wondered if he was mentally fit to serve. Everyone seems to forget that Obama is a closer, and this is the opening round of a three-round bout. To continue the metaphor, Romney won this round on points and did not deliver a knockout. I will bet you a Chipotle burrito bowl that by the end of this thing the conventional wisdom will be that Romney let his ego get the best of him and a resurgent Obama meep meeps to victory.

Another adds:

In case you do not remember, the following was what was reported after the first Bush vs. Kerry debate in October 2004:

The Newsweek survey polled more than 1,000 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. Newsweek's post-debate poll showed 61 percent of respondents said Kerry won, 19 percent said Bush won and 16 percent said they were undecided.

That was a whopping 42 percent margin victory by Kerry, and what is amazing is how only 19 percent thought Bush had won. And that was from a real poll. Guess what Romney's margin of victory is according CNN's insta-poll? The same 42 percent. And Kerry won, right?

Earlier reader thoughts here. My initial take on the debate here. Blog reax here. Tweet reax here and here.