I keep telling myself that this is unlikely, that even a guy with a galactic ego who surrounds himself with yes-men, cultists, and a very friendly media couldn’t possibly have thought he won that debate. At best, his inner monologue was Kevin Kline at the end of “A Fish Called Wanda”: “It was a tie.”

But then I remember that his grand answer to Romney’s national poll surge was a Big Bird ad, and I don’t know. I just don’t know.

When President Barack Obama stepped off the stage in Denver last week the 60 million Americans watching the debate against Mitt Romney already knew it had been a disaster for him.

But what nobody knew, until now, was that Obama believed he had actually won.

In an extraordinary insight into the events leading up to the 90 minute showdown which changed the face of the election, a Democrat close to the Obama campaign today reveals that the President also did not take his debate preparation seriously, ignored the advice of senior aides and ignored one-liners that had been prepared to wound Romney.

The Democrat said that Obama’s inner circle was dismayed at the ‘disaster’ and that he believed the central problem was that the President was so disdainful of Romney that he didn’t believe he needed to engage with him.

Not the first time we’ve heard that his team knew even before the debate was over how disastrous it was. But what about the man himself? Could he have been so intoxicated by the smell of his own rhetorical flatulence that he thought he had won? According to the NYT, maybe:

Mr. Obama walked off the stage thinking he at least had gotten in some of his points. “This was a terrific debate,” he said in the closing minutes.

“He knew that Romney had had a decent night as well,” Mr. Axelrod said later. “But it’s very hard when you’re standing there. It’s hard when you’re up there to judge it completely.”

Is it? If the entire Twitterverse, which includes partisans of all stripes and IQs high and low, could reach a consensus in real time that Romney had demolished him, we should expect the Lightbringer to have had some inkling. And if you believe this Politico piece published a few days ago, he did:

Nobody had to tell President Barack Obama he had whiffed when he walked off the stage in Denver Wednesday night — nor was he in the mood for a lot of advice.

“You could tell he was pissed,” said a person close to the president, “But it wasn’t like the end of the world. It was like, ‘That wasn’t good. The next one has to better.’ No apologies. No hand-wringing.”

That night, after a brief, terse chat with his advisers backstage at the University of Denver arena — “He had real clarity about what had happened,” one of them told POLITICO with a chuckle — Obama hopped in his limo, “The Beast,” and sped off to a nearby DoubleTree with wife Michelle.

Not sure how to square those NYT and Politico pieces except to assume that campaign staffers are spinning in different directions due to disagreements over how best to help him. If they admit that he knew he was losing, the question from their base then becomes, “So why didn’t he adjust and try harder?” If they say that he didn’t know he was losing, the question is, “How can any sentient being not have known?” Maybe Axelrod figures it’s better to invite the second question and play it off with a glib “it’s hard to judge when you’re in the moment” than to invite the first question, the answer to which is either “he didn’t care enough to rally” or “he wasn’t intellectually agile enough to adjust.”

Speaking of lame, glib, laughable spin, your exit quotation: “[T]hey feel just as good about where they are today as they did two weeks ago.”