The first debate is now recent history and we all get the pleasure of picking it apart piece by piece. There are lessons to be learned from the Denver debate for both sides and their supporters and we won’t really get to see if they are taken to heart until the next round (although we can predict Biden and Ryan were taking their notes as well). Yet, until the second debate comes, let’s talk about what we saw and didn’t see.
Coming into this most people already gave in to the fact we weren’t going to hear anything new or any truly solid information from either candidate. Over the years the debates have devolved into long commercial-free political ads for the two major parties, but that doesn’t mean the debates have no effect. The effect, especially in today’s instantaneous and continuing 24-hour news cycle, is the pundits and prognosticators run wild with second-by-second emotional reactions from viewers and handpicked focus groups. What we really get from this is not what people learn about policy choices or views of government growth and responsibility, but whether or not they felt emotionally connected to the candidate and how “presidential” they looked.
With that in mind, there are really two different outcomes to the first debate: Mitt won, Obama let Mitt win.
Through the looking glass of emotional reaction, body language and personality, Mitt swung for the fences and landed a solid first base hit. He came off as more confident, more secure and more on top of his facts. That’s why we see a lot of the initial reactions skewing towards him. Yet, there is the second way of viewing the debate, through what the candidates actually said and weighing that against reality. This gives a slightly different outcome.
Mitt lied. He lied his pants off and Obama failed to accurately and clearly call him on it.
Let’s talk about the big numbers that got thrown around, like the 5-trillion dollar tax cut that Romney says he is absolutely not in favor of. Obama went back to it over and over again, maybe once too many, but he was trying to hammer home that this was exactly what Romney has been campaigning on for the past eighteen months. Romney categorically denied that is the shape of his plan and said the tax cuts he proposes will be fully paid for by closing loopholes and ending deductions by the wealthy.
That all sounds nice when spoken from behind the podium, but when the fact checkers (you remember those…the people Romney’s campaign said they wouldn’t be run by?) looked into his claims the morning after the debate, they found Obama was indeed correct. The president mentioned that there are nowhere near enough loopholes and deductions to come even close to equaling out the amount of tax cuts Romney proposes. Those numbers have been looked over and over again by economists and they prove the president right.
Romney also tossed out a 90 billion dollar amount that Obama supposedly spent in one year on green energy handouts, which he followed up with the seemingly crushing factoid that almost half of those businesses have now gone bankrupt. That would be a crushing blow, if it were even close to true.
The 90 billion in question was actually part of the stimulus plan and was spread out over three years, not one. It also covered a lot more than just green energy loans, like a ton went to clean coal (which Romney supposedly is hugely in favor of) and another large amount went to nuclear waste cleanup (what a terrible way to spend money, right?). Roughly a third was actually designated for green energy startups which according to the folks who looked into it actually are only reporting a bankruptcy rate of four percent (possibly up to eight percent if counted in a certain fashion, but far, far from 50 percent). When his campaign was challenged on that this morning, they already began walking that back, saying Romney went off script and was incorrect.
This is partially to blame for Obama’s performance (and please pay attention to the “partially”). The president likely came ready to debate Romney on the viability and intelligence of the policy plans he’s been touting from the campaign trail for the last year-and-a-half, but when Romney hit the stage and ran quickly to the center, denying pretty much every program and campaign promise up to this point, Obama seemingly had no idea how to react.
As for him, Obama quizzically stayed away from huge attack lines, like the infamous 47 percent video and the widely disproven welfare reform lie Romney has been spouting for weeks on end. There were some huge openings the president didn’t take and that left many of his supporters scratching their heads. Maybe he didn’t want to come off too aggressive or maybe he just wanted to see what Romney was going to hit the stage with, either way, his plan (or lack thereof) made him come off as weaker and oddly disconnected.
To many this was Obama’s chance to knock Romney out of the race for good, but it felt like the president’s team is taking a different track. For Romney, this was his chance to prove himself on the presidential stage and show a more confident version of the man we’ve seen fumble along the trail. No matter the factual basis for much of what he said, he succeeded in that task and that’s why he gets to wear the sash, Winner of Round One.