Analysis of Mitt Romney’s astonishing debate victory over Barack Obama on Wednesday night will continue for days to come. Some are blaming Obama’s awful performance on poor debate preparation. Filmmaker Michael Moore (yes, that Michael Moore) joked on Twitter, “This is what happens when you pick John Kerry as your debate coach.” *
That’s a little rough on John Kerry, isn’t it? Even if Kerry turned in a stellar imitation of Romney during practice sessions, it would have gone right over Obama’s head. What you saw during that debate, time and again, was the firmly welded closure of the Obama mind. He believes his campaign hype – he doesn’t think there are any real alternatives to his policies, he understands no ideology except his own, and worst of all – perhaps after over-indulging in those syrupy sweet, ridiculously slanted media polls – he thought the American people were pretty well sold on his “nobody could have done a better job cleaning up after Bush than I did” nonsense.
Look at how Obama behaved while Romney was talking during the debate: staring down at his feet, or looking to the moderator for help… looking anywhere except at Mitt Romney. Barack Obama is a deeply arrogant man, so maybe he thought this would somehow communicate disdain, but instead it made him look disconnected and defensive. And when it was Obama’s turn to talk, he repeatedly ignored whatever Romney had just said. He kept trying to flog talking points after Romney had rebutted them.
Romney, on the other hand, did a remarkably good job of listening to each Obama oration, and remembering it perfectly. During one early exchange, Obama rambled across five different topics, drawing a mild rebuke from moderator Jim Lehrer… but Romney perfectly recalled each of Obama’s disparate points and responded to them, in order. Romney was holding a debate. Obama thought he could just read his moth-eaten campaign speeches and cobwebbed talking points one more time, and call it a night.
The length of time allotted for each candidate response worked painfully against Obama, who kept padding out his segments with time-wasting circular arguments and empty rhetoric. Romney used his time to restate and respond to Obama’s statements, and introduce additional data to every argument. Romney was listening when Obama spoke, and planning his next response. Perhaps Obama would have seen that tactic coming, if he’d ever set foot in a corporate boardroom.
A few of Obama’s arguments were amazing blunders, lobbing slow pitches he should have known Romney would hit out of the park. How on Earth could Obama still be peddling his silly talking point about increased oil and natural gas production, without knowing that Romney would pounce and explain that development is happening on private lands, where Obama couldn’t stop it? That’s an elementary point for anyone who has seriously considered the issue. But Obama thought he could just drop off a carefully spun factoid and move on.
How could Obama have been so ill-prepared for Romney’s response to the “ObamaCare is just like RomneyCare” point? Everyone who follows politics at all knew this would be thrown at Romney, knows Romney was well aware of this threat, and could have gamed out the broad outlines of his response. But Obama doesn’t study the criticism of ObamaCare. He doesn’t think there are any valid criticisms, beyond the stubborn insistence of critics to call it “ObamaCare.” He apparently felt he could defuse that sole argument by making a little joke about finally accepting the name… and most people watching the debate thought, “Why in the world haven’t you been proud to have this ‘mighty achievement’ named after you all along, Mr. Obama?”
Obama’s big attack plan was to keep repeating that Romney doesn’t have any detailed proposals. That just made Obama look absurd. You don’t have to agree with Romney’s ideas to acknowledge that he has them. Romney often speaks as if he were conjuring a Power Point presentation in the air above his head. Obama should have known that Romney would destroy the “you don’t have any specifics” line by offering specifics… but evidently nobody in the Obama campaign team has ever dropped by Mitt Romney’s website.
And how in the world can a President whose ridiculous fantasy budget proposals never drew a single vote from his own party think he could get away with nattering about how budgeting means making hard choices? How could he possibly forget his own Party’s shameful dereliction of duty in failing to pass a budget for four years? Nothing but a complete lack of self-awareness, and total ignorance of what his critics have been saying, could explain it.
It is often said that biased media can hurt liberals in debates, because they’re unprepared to face serious criticism. That’s never been more agonizingly obvious than it was in Denver on Wednesday night. You know what I’ll bet Mitt Romney spent a good deal of time studying? The tape of Obama falling apart during his first serious questioning by reporters during this campaign season, when he appeared at the Univision town hall.
It would appear that Obama’s intense encounters with “The View” and the “Pimp With a Limp” didn’t prepare him to face Mitt Romney. Maybe he would have done better, if he hadn’t become so accustomed to dropping off prepared statements at “press conferences” and running away without taking any questions. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has to deal with a press corps that gets caught on open microphones coordinating their questions to savage him. Their first face-to-face encounter reversed which candidate has been more ill-served by that media environment.
* Don’t worry, Moore got stupid again within the hour, later suggesting that maybe Obama “had to appear timid” because “for the past 2 days, the Right has been pounding their ‘Obama is an angry black man’ video.”