Senior Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs on Sunday acknowledged that the president was unhappy with his performance in last week’s first debate.

“It’s not rocket science to believe that the president’s disappointed,” Gibbs said, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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President Barack Obama returns to Los Angeles Sunday for a star-bedecked celebrity concert and fundraising dinner. In the wake of his Denver debate troubles, however, the long scheduled visit has acquired another, equally urgent purpose—reassuring his Hollywood supporters that he’s fighting to win the race and he’s poised for a comeback in the next televised forum with former Gov. Mitt Romney…

“Everyone is in shock,” said one long-time Democratic activist. “No one can understand what happened.”

At the very least, several longtime Obama supporters told THR, the chief executive should expect some directorial notes on how to tailor his performance to television’s split screen. “Everyone with a connection to the president is reaching out to him,” said another veteran Dem. “At the end of the day, the best coach he has is himself.”

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CBS’s “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer kicked off the conversation “with the obvious question — what happened?”

“The president showed up with the intent of answering questions and having a discussion, an honest discussion of where we will go as a country, and Romney showed up to deliver a performance, and he delivered a very good performance,” Axelrod said. “It was completely un-rooted in fact, it was completely un-rooted in the positions he’s taken before and he spent 90 minutes trying to undo two years of campaigning on that stage, but he did it very well.”…

Obama, Axelrod said, “was a little taken aback by the brazenness with which Gov. Romney walked away” from his past positions and his record.

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Expectations have changed after the greatest audience in the history of presidential debates saw a veritable empty suit — or empty chair — on stage, without a helpful media follow-up question, or a “make no mistake about it” refrain to be had. Over 60 million now expect little at all from their president in the debate, so Obama will benefit from dismal expectations by just showing up as the incumbent and being addressed as “Mr. President.” The pressure on Romney to be even more impressive mounts. The realization that another rant by a liberal commentator could cement the reputation of Obama as an incompetent and add to the image of a hopelessly inept president will temper post-debate media anger. The moderator cannot afford to be laissez-faire in the fashion of Jim Lehrer, and will prove far more partisan. The media pressure to discount the importance of the debates themselves will increase.

But despite all that, the nation has now seen that the conservative critique of Barack Obama — fluff without substance — was frighteningly accurate.

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The first, and the most dangerous threat to Obama’s re-election, is a critical mass of voters saying this: “Barack Obama, nice man, good father, great that we finally elected an African-American. He tried hard. But you know what? I just want to try something new, even if I don’t know it will work.”

That sentiment is deadly for Obama. As long as Romney didn’t seem like a credible alternative, Obama kept it at bay, even though the economy has stagnated. But Romney reawakened that mood by the confident and crisp way he talked about the mechanics of how jobs are created — through start-ups, small businesses and entrepreneurship — and the catalytic power of markets. His presentation crackled with a freshness and a sense of possibility that was completely missing in Obama’s monotone discussion of health care, deficits and government programs. And where Obama had a chance to talk about how his own green jobs initiative has actually spurred all kinds of innovations and start-ups, he whiffed. (As some have noted, it is too bad the debate rules didn’t allow him to phone a friend.)

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Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus expressed optimism that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would do well in Thursday night’s vice presidential debate, but sought to downplay expectations…

“Paul is going to do a great job, but also I think it’s very important that people understand that, people realize that Joe Biden is a gifted orator, is very good at rhetoric, is very relatable,” he added…

“Last week you saw the difference: an unfiltered Mitt Romney, an unfiltered Barack Obama,” he said of the debate. “You saw inspiration, heart, preparedness from Mitt Romney and you saw a president that came in unprepared and uninspiring.”

“You know what, maybe Clint Eastwood was right,” said Priebus.

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“It was one of the most inept performances by an incumbent president that I’ve ever seen,” said TIME Magazine columnist Joe Klein. He said that Obama’s performance was indicative of his deferential demeanor and his aversion towards public fights. However, Klein said that Obama opted for “unilateral disarmament” in the face of Romney’s attacks on his record.

MSNBC host S.E. Cupp said that her contacts within the Romney campaign see this debate as facilitating a reset of the campaign in three parts. First, they wanted a fight, which they got. Second, the debate ignited the attentions of marginally interested swing voters. Finally, they feel that the debate allowed disaffected Obama voters from 2008 the license to take a second look at Romney.

“They see this as a hat trick moving forward,” said Cupp.