Debate rebound — Conservatives scared after Obama’s debate rebound
Popular belief says the second presidential debate mattered more for Democrats than Republicans. Nonsense. President Barack Obama’s campaign required resurrection after a two-week public relations nightmare, known in most circles as the first debate, but if Gov. Mitt Romney was to land any knockout, the ordained date was Oct. 16. Today, Obama is still standing.
In what was both the most confrontational and substantive debate of the 2012 elections, the Obama Democrats fantasize about finally arrived. Smart, quick and aggressive, the president overcame what some call his best impulses toward compromise and stood as the strong partisan half our polarized nation yearns for.
He hit Romney on his numerous vulnerabilities — a tax plan conservative columnist David Brooks says, “doesn’t pass the laugh test,” belief in self-deportation as immigration policy, support of the Blunt Amendment—a law allowing employers to dictate employee contraception coverage and the infinite opposing stances of “candidate Romney” and Governor Romney.
For his part, Mitt Romney did not look bad, though he regressed compared to the Oct. 3 debate. He remained combative on the economy and regulations, but misused the Libya attack in a way he will regret for the next three weeks.
Most polls showed the president winning the debate, though more instructive of the outcome is the conservative media response. In football, losers bemoan the officials — in politics, they blame bias and the moderator. Oct. 17 saw Theblaze.com, Breitbart.com and Foxnews.com focusing not on the performance of their candidate, but on moderator Candy Crowley as the story of the debate. They claimed Crowley showed bias when Gov. Romney accused the president of taking two weeks to call the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya “terrorism.” Romney’s attack was mostly correct, but unlettered. The White House did take two weeks to eliminate “The Innocence of Muslims” video myth from their Benghazi narrative, but Obama literally described the Sept. 11 attack as an “act of terror” on Sept. 12. Crowley acknowledged this discrepancy, and for a moment before millions, Romney appeared an overambitious fool.
In addition to his Libya attack missing, the governor gave Obama a chance to take responsibility for the issue, which the president seized. It was here the contrast between president and challenger was starkest. At the risk of tautology, it let the president look presidential on what should have been his weakest issue.
Unwilling to accept defeat, attacks on Crowley show the conservative’s fear that this election is slipping away. The two weeks following the first debate were both Romney’s peak and Obama’s valley. The sun has now set on the governor’s high point, and all he has to show for it is a narrow lead in national polls.
Within the context of our electoral college, national polls hold no practical value. In spite of the gains Oct. 3 gave the governor, he has not overtaken the president in most battleground state polls and is losing in almost all electoral college projections. Obama can expect to make up some of his lost ground over the next week, and he’s already winning by slim margins in the states that will decide our election. The governor peaked too soon and too low.
Brian Marceau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org