The Highlight Reel
Romney 1, Obama 0.
In the wake of the first presidential candidates’ debate, the verdict is in: Fans and haters, pundits and tweens, red and blue seem to all be in agreement that Romney won. In fact, CNN reported that only 25% of polled viewers thought the president came out on top, while 67% declared Romney the victor. Since 1984, when CNN first asked this question, no candidate had ever topped 60%.
Why is it a Big Deal?
Election debates are a cornerstone of American political tradition, ranging from the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 (hour-long speeches with no moderator) to the most recent Obama-Romney debate of October 3, 2012 (only felt like hour-long speeches with no moderator). In the intervening years, the history of presidential election debates holds many dull hours of inconsequential rhetoric, some memorable gaffes and one-liners, and even a few true game-changers. Remember this gem?
This most recent debate was only the first of three between Obama and Romney. Its longer-term effects on the race remain to be seen, but we do know that it was the most-watched debate of all time.
Then What Happened?
Leading up to the event, both campaigns made a point of lowering expectations. Team Obama pointed out how bland and professorial the president can be, while Team Romney called its own man a rookie. Overall, the general public still expected Obama to win, putting the president in the undesirable position of merely meeting expectations if he won, and disappointing all the more if he didn’t. It seemed that the public had gotten pretty attached to the stereotypes of Obama as a gifted orator and Romney as having the charisma of cardboard (for further information, see “Debate Could Test Two Romney Weaknesses: Talking and Thinking”).
In fact, Romney proved able to think quickly on his feet, clearly convey strong messages with passion and engagement, and all in all, out-charisma the president, who seemed to be more engaged with writing notes than debating.
SNL’s take on the dynamic:
And what do the pollsters have to say about this? Well, it looks like they’ve taken some inspiration from the NFL replacement refs: Pew flipped from an 8-point lead for Obama last month to a 4-point lead for Romney now, while another poll flopped from a 5-point lead for Obama last month to a 3-point lead for Romney now. Others still have Obama in the lead or are uncertain, wavering from week to week.
Graph courtesy of The Economist.
Who Reacted How?
Ever come up with the perfect zinger several hours too late? The president knows how you feel, but the attempted second-day save didn’t do him much good.
Image courtesy of The Baltimore Sun.
Meanwhile, the Obama camp has been grasping at all sorts of reasons and excuses for the president’s performance. Al Gore blamed it on the a-a-a-a-a-altitude, while some aids blamed John Kerry for not being tough enough while playing Fake Romney during debate prep (by that measure, Rob Portman must have done a great job rehearsing with Romney as Fake Obama). Other debate watchers pointed the finger at Mittens for playing dirty. The claim here is that Obama kept it classy by not mentioning Mitt’s “47%” comments, but Romney presented arguments that, however compelling, simply weren’t true, misrepresenting his policies on taxes and healthcare. One of his healthcare claims was even rebutted by his own staffer.
Image courtesy of XKCD.
However, other pained supporters were not willing to give POTUS a break, lambasting his lack of energy and effort as a disappointment and a letdown. Bill Maher, who has given a million dollars to Obama’s super PAC, speculated on an alternative explanation:
Another perspective, of course, is that the candidates both sucked.
Make That Body Talk
If this debate had a moral, it would be about the importance of body language. The president looked resigned, distracted, and weary, while Romney appeared at every turn the fiery contender, vehement, and resolved. The NYT takes a closer look at some of their signature gestures here.
Earlier this year, James Lipton of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” actually decided to do a little pro bono work and give Mitt Romney some advice on acting human:
Here is Lipton’s reaction after the debate, having watched his new protégé’s first major test run:
What’s Up Next?
The next debate will be on Thursday, October 11, between vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. The Republican VP candidate will have the challenge of reconciling his pre-Romney positions with Romney’s post-Ryan positions with whatever it was Romney was describing during the last debate. But not to worry—if the debate doesn’t go well for Ryan, he has a backup plan: he’s still actively campaigning for his House seat.
The next presidential debate will cover both foreign and domestic policy in a town hall forum, hosted at Hofstra University in New York, on October 16. Team Obama sure has some work to do between now and then.
- Fact check: Christian Science Monitor presents the most famous things never actually said.
- Don’t pull a Biden! The VP’s literal abuse of “literally” inspires a grammar lesson.
- Former students of MIT’s Media Lab present the Super PAC App, a free iPhone app that listens to political ads (Shazam-style) and tells users who paid for the ad, as well as verifying the ad’s claims through nonpartisan sources.
- Still can’t get enough of politics? YouTube has just the channel for you.
- What if American political reporters covered the Chinese horse race? Foreign Policy imagines what an article on Chinese politics would look like if covered by the American press.
- Presented without comment, two photos of Hillz seeing something she likes:
- Sorry Paul Ryan, the seniors’ vote might be locked down already. It seems that Joe Biden is the heartthrob of choice for the Medicare-eligible.
Maybe Jill Biden should stop advertising…
- Romney might have been acknowledged as the winner of the debate, but the loser of the debate might not have been Obama. Jim Lehrer might have come out of it even worse than the president, spawning an immediate flood of Internet mockery.