US Presidential Debate #1

2012-10-04 09:58

New York - A CNN flash poll published almost immediately after the USA's first presidential debate of this election cycle said that 67% of viewers believed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won. Quite frankly that would indicate 33% of CNN had no idea what they were watching.
There is no doubt that Romney may have some fact-checkers telephoning him in the morning, but for 90 minutes on Wednesday evening, in probably the largest television audience either man will see this cycle, Romney outgunned Obama.
It has been well-publicised that Romney took time off campaigning to prepare for these debates, and the preparation paid off as he had an argument (or agreement, mystifyingly, but we'll get to that later) for every Obama policy quibble, and Obama seemed reluctant to fight back.

Romney made argumentative errors, opening up opportunities for the president to retort, but it just didn't happen. This was likely a tactic from Obama – to pretty much aim for the draw and not risk alienating anyone.

But this strategy failed as Romney landed blow after blow about domestic issues important to Americans: Healthcare, the economy, jobs, the deficit and the country’s gaping pile of debt.
In terms of strategy, a defensive strategy may have been a severe miscalculation. A journalist for The New Republic, Alec MacGillis, said on Twitter: "Thousands of political reporters do not fly to Denver to watch a TV for 90 minutes without coming back with a new narrative."

Sound bites

With reporters gagging to report something, ANYTHING, about the presidential debates, and get off speaking about polls moving at glacial pace towards Obama, this was something Team Obama and its myriad advisors should have known was coming.

By playing safe, Obama didn't give the media anything to work with. Romney, however, dropped sound bite after scrumptious sound bite.
It wasn't that Romney's answers were all perfect – they were absolute piffle some of the time – but they were delivered with such authority against virtually zero resistance that they seemed convincing.
For example, in a discussion about healthcare, Mitt Romney said he had his own healthcare plan to replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare - which Romney promises to repeal if he becomes president).

Romney's plan claims to maintain some of the parts of Obamacare, such as guaranteeing medical aid for those who have pre-existing conditions, but will not include the individual mandate (the key aspect of the bill which has caused all the controversy).

I have explained previously on News24 that this doesn't work – the business model requires the mandate for pre-existing conditions to be covered. And Obama didn't correct Romney.

Obama unconvincing

When Romney lashed the president for cutting $716bn from the popular medical insurance programme for seniors, Obama failed to mention that Romney's vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan drew up a budget that maintained those cuts; a budget Romney backed.

Obama failed to land a convincing attack (even though he brought it up) against Romney's 20% across the board tax cut plan which would cost around $5-trillion over ten years – although Romney has said he will close loopholes to make this revenue-neutral, he hasn't specifically how he'd do it.
Romney also played a new clever game, agreeing with the president at some points to nullify arguments he was trying to make. This isn't a brand new tactic – in recent days Romney has said he would not undo the effects of Obama's executive order that allows the children of some undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship.

On Wednesday night Romney went soft on regulation of the financial sector to the point of saying, "Regulation is essential. You can't have a free market work without regulation." – something he has been incredibly harsh on before.

He also claimed "I like green energy" which certainly wasn't a shout out to the Republican base. This was a tactic aimed at independent and undecided voters, and it could very well be effective – although we will have to wait for polling data to see how it did.
It was easy to see that Romney improved at this game since the plethora of debates during the Republican primary contests where he came unstuck more than once. He didn't lose his temper as he has in previous performances, nor did he gaffe.

Preparation paid off

The president, however, seemed rusty. While some pundits claimed that the difference between the candidates was because Romney went through nearly 20 primary debates mere months ago, and Obama last debated four years ago, this was not the same Romney.

The Republican candidate has been criticised for doing too much debate preparation in recent weeks instead of campaigning, but this paid off.

Romney knew his lines and the work he put in during the run up was a stark contrast to Obama who seemed to know his stuff, but hadn't done any work in delivery. For such a superb public speaker, this was a net-negative.
Do not underestimate the effect these debates can have. They don't always move the needle in polls, and there are still two more debates to go, plus one between the vice-presidential candidates.

But for many Americans who will go and vote in November, this is the first time they saw the presidential candidates for a decent length of time, and while policy wonks may wake up on Thursday morning and want to quibble with some of Romney's (and Obama's) answers, much of the available voters for Romney electorate won't because of the authority with which Romney spoke.
Nothing that happened on Wednesday night will be fatal to Obama, but Romney will be well pleased after a sterling performance. And deservedly so.

  • omo.naija.750 - 2012-10-04 11:24

    What happened to Obama? Cat cut your tongue? Who knows maybe it was staged.With America anything is possible.The fact that Obama did not even fight back is just uncharacteristic of him.

      kobus.hattingh.5 - 2012-10-04 12:27

      Its because Romney is the better man for President between the two of them :)

      dane.herbst.5 - 2012-10-05 11:26

      neither are worth being president

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