The MSNBC pundits were ranging from disappointing anger (Ed Schultz and Chris Matthews) to devil's advocates (Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes) to Romney pom-pom shaking (Steve "I gave you Sarah Palin" Schmidt) to rational thought (believe it or not, Al Shaprton). So I slept on it and tried to think logically before writing about it to avoid sounding like Chris Matthews blowing a gasket.
The perception was that Mitt Romney won the night because he dominated the discussion. I wouldn't so much call it dominating as much as hijacking, bullying his way through the evening and running roughshod over moderator Lehrer, who obviously should have been in bed by the time the debate began and most likely forgot to take his vitamin supplements. But perceptions are key and anyone watching last night who was still "undecided" (if your definition of undecided is low information moron) probably leaned Romney. I doubt that anyone voting for Obama had their mind changed last night.
Here's my take:
While most of us were waiting for Obama's knockout punch with the 47% line, or Bain Capital, or Romneycare, or Massachusetts job creation numbers while Romney was governor, the realization is that President Obama is NEVER that guy. While his stump speeches are fiery, he has always been reserved and muted in his debates which Bob Cesca rightly pointed out in one of his tweets last night, complete with a video link to the first debate of 2008 with John McCain.
That being said, Obama's had better debate performances in the past, maybe in part due to the "no rules" format last night - or at least rules that didn't seem to apply to Romney, because the rules seemly never apply to rich people. I do agree that the President didn't seem prepared with counter arguments to Romney's Gatling gun barrage of bullshit. But don't expect to see stump Barack "Fired Up! Ready To Go !" Obama behind the debate podium, though I hope they recalibrate for the next debate. Romney's aggressiveness and playing fast and loose with his policy positions, along with the low expectations of his performance (zingers, anyone?) won him the night.
I believe there is a very concerted effort on the part of the Obama campaign to avoid at all costs, the appearance of President Obama being angry or worked up for fear of the "Angry Black Man" moniker. He's the Jackie Robinson of the Presidency and it seems they feel he has to go out of his way to look measured and calm, and never get riled up when challenged in these types of situations.
As far as the substance of the debate went, how do you debate a man who completely abandoned everything that got him the nomination in the first place? When Romney stumps for the last year on his 20% across the board tax cut then flat our states that he has no intention of lowering taxes for the rich, how do you counter?
When faced with the fact that his tax policy of making the Bush tax cuts permanent, plus cutting taxes 20% across the board, plus eliminating the estate tax, plus eliminating the alternative minimum tax (something I personally get hit with and would like restructuring) without raising revenue, thereby causing a $5 trillion hole, Romney completely did a 180 and denied that he'd approve of any tax cut that would add to the debt; something he touted for 18 months shrugged off at the drop of a hat. How do you debate that?
But here's the thing, and something that I agreed with when it came to Al Sharpton's analysis: Romney being able to say whatever he wanted to, whenever he wanted to, is going to come back to haunt him with his base. You can't run as a right wing ideologue for a year and a half and then change stride without raising the hackles of the people who voted you as their nominee based on the red meat. Romney can't say he's not going to cut education funding when education cuts are part of Paul Ryan's plan that Romney said he'd sign into law without a double take from your voters. Romney can't say he will save Medicare while admitting his Medicare program is a voucher program, and then add that he'd repeal Obamacare which extends the life of Medicare until 2024.
Ultimately, the night belonged to Romney and President Obama has to come out stronger in the next debate. The polls will probably tighten which will make us all wring our hands and sit on the edges of our seats, but if Romney continues to deny his policy positions and make shit up on the fly, I think it'll become a real problem for him.
(Cross-posted at ABLC)