A couple of weeks ago, Jazz Shaw wrote that conservatives should consider Morning Joe a good forum to have for moderates and independents that tune into MSNBC to get some semblance of the truth. We’ve already noted Mark Halperin’s cutting criticism of Team Obama’s “Bindergate,” and this is another piece of data that these viewers would not have heard had MSNBC scheduled a Hardball/Rachel Maddow clone for this slot.
Steve Rattner, the former “car czar” for Barack Obama, explains why voters may have narrowly given Obama the edge in the debate on Tuesday night, but give Mitt Romney a 31-point advantage on the economy. You have to go all the way back to the 1930s, Rattner explains after Willie Geist presses the point, to find a President with a worse record on economic growth in a first term:
We’ve talked about this for months, but the word needs to get out to voters who haven’t yet made a decision. That’s what makes Morning Joe and Joe Scarborough valuable. When they focus on the hard data, it makes the decision a lot more obvious to all the right people.
That’s why Obama’s edge in polling on debating style won’t matter. Karl Rove makes the same point today in the Wall Street Journal, writing that Obama may have “won” the debate, but he’s losing the argument:
After the debate, CNN found that Mr. Romney came out ahead on the essential question of who was better for handling “the economy” with 58% to Mr. Obama’s 40%. This was an improvement from Denver, when the Romney advantage was 55%-43%. So Mr. Obama continues to run behind on the all-important argument over who offers the better prospect of a stronger economy, greater prosperity and serious deficit reduction.
This goes to the essential flaw in Team Obama’s strategy. The president and his advisers have been so intent on disqualifying Mr. Romney that they have done a miserable job defending the president’s record and virtually nothing to frame a second-term agenda. Meanwhile, according to Pew Research Center polls conducted in mid-September and early October, the president’s favorability ratings among all voters have declined to 49% from 55%.
And while Obama did get a slight edge in those debate polls, election polling tells a very different story with less than three weeks to go:
Gallup reported on Sept. 9 that only 30% of the public is “satisfied” with the condition of the country. The Oct. 13 Washington Post/ABC poll found that 56% think the country is “off on the wrong track.” The rates of unemployment, second-quarter GDP growth and labor-force participation are all worse than they were three weeks before any modern presidential re-election. Mr. Obama’s status-quo, stay-the-course campaign will be a hard sell with a public that wants change.
That’s reflected in polling data. Mr. Obama led 49.1% to 45% in an average of national polls conducted about one week before the candidates’ first debate. In national surveys taken since then, Mr. Romney averages 47.4% to Mr. Obama’s 46.9%. The Republican candidate continues to lead among independent voters. In eight recent national polls, an average 49% of the likely independent voters say they support Mr. Romney, while 37% favor Mr. Obama.
On Monday Mr. Romney reached 50% in Gallup’s daily tracking of likely voters—something Mr. Obama has not yet been able to do. No other presidential candidate has been at 50% or higher at this point in the race in this survey and lost.
Records matter. Economic despair matters. If one candidate chooses to ignore a stagnating economy in an election bid, especially an incumbent, it catches up to him sooner or later.
Update: Timothy Dalrymple agrees that debate “performance” has become irrelevant after the first event in Denver:
Put it this way. When it comes to Obama, most people’s minds are made up. 45 percent are going to vote for him. 45 percent will not. Of the remaining ten percent, Obama has had four years to close the sale and he has failed. If those 10 percent believed that Obama’s record as President warranted another four years, they would not be undecided. The primary reason they’re undecided is because they’re still assessing Romney. If people see a version of Obama that’s arrogant, petulant and stammering, that will have a slight negative effect, but it won’t sway people’s opinions too much. And the upside of a rousing debate performance is extremely limited, because we’ve heard it all before from President Obama.
In other words, Romney soared in the polls after Denver not because Obama performed so poorly but because Romney himself performed so well. …
The Obama campaign spent a great deal of money immediately after the conclusion of the Republican primaries because they wanted to “define” Romney. And the press went along with it. They made out Romney to be a heartless robber baron who just (for some reason) wanted to kill puppies, destroy American jobs and make his rich friends richer. It was ridiculous, but it was working. And when Romney not only delivered a virtuoso performance on the Denver stage but showed the American people who he is and what he cares about, I think a lot of the American people realized that they had been sold a false bill of goods.
That means that Obama’s continued assault on Romney’s record and character will have a limited effect. The Left was clamoring for Obama to go on the offensive, but that’s the last thing he needs to do. No one trusts that Obama will accurately represent Romney. And the American people understand intuitively that a strong President would be running on his own record, his own accomplishments, his own vision — not on scaring people away from a caricatured version of his opponent. Obama can keep on attacking Romney, but the American people just don’t believe him anymore.
I’ve said all along that the real inflection point for this election would be the first debate — when Romney got to stand on stage with Obama and demonstrate whether or not he could connect with voters and get his message past the media filters. Obama’s collapse in Denver only made the contrast between them more obvious, and that’s a bell that simply cannot be unrung, and certainly not with the same tired strawmen that Romney torched in the first debate.