Romney wins the debate season — and the key test for a challenger; Update: Romney hits 50% in Rasmussen tracker, up 4

posted at 9:21 am on October 23, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Allahpundit linked to National Journal’s Ron Fournier last night in his excellent roundup of the debate analysis, but it’s worth considering again the next morning after the final debate of the 2012 presidential cycle.  Like many pundits after the debate, Fournier gives Barack Obama the edge on debate performance last night, but writes that Mitt Romney won the overall debate season — perhaps because Romney, unlike Obama, understood the stakes:

Mitt Romney wins. That’s not to say he won Monday night’s debate or the presidential campaign, but it’s safe to say he won an important chapter: The debate season.

With an acceptable, though far from exceptional, performance in his third and final face-off with President Obama, the former Massachusetts governor became one of the few presidential candidates to make debates matter.

Bottom line: Obama won Monday night’s debate on points, benefiting from the blessings of incumbency and hard-world experience. But the challenger held his own, and thus the state of the race is likely unchanged.

Debates between the two presidential candidates are ostensibly to force them to defend their agendas.  They mainly get used to produce sound bites, zingers, and gaffes that the media hopes to use to define the race.  Their real value to voters, however, is to test the presidential mettle of each man.  A President is presumed to have more of it, by virtue of his four years in the office already, so the challenger has to work hard to equal or surpass his stature.  Romney did that in the first debate, and in the two succeeding debates solidified his standing as a man at least Obama’s equal.

In fact, Chris Wallace wondered whether Romney was the one with the gravitas of incumbency last night:

Yeah, let me first give you my general opinion. And that was, I thought in the middle of the debate that if I had been on the desert island for the last four years and I had just been parachuted into this debate, I would have thought the guy that had turned out to be Mitt Romney was the president protecting a lead and that Barack Obama was the challenger trying, somewhat desperately to catch up.

Obama was slashing, was personal, was cutting, I thought that Romney was big-picture, seemed to have much more of an agenda for the future than the President did.  I e-mailed one of his top aides in the course of the debate, and said, “What’s behind this strategy?” Clearly he was not taking the bait, not getting into fights with Barack Obama.  This official said, “This is all Mitt Romney’s idea.  This is how he wants to conduct this debate.”

Remember Morrissey’s Axiom on Politics and Dating? Desperation is not an aphrodisiac.  Small wonder, then, that even in a PPP poll that proclaimed Obama the winner of the debate by eleven points in swing states that the net movement for both men wound up in the margin of error (+6 for Obama and +3 for Romney) — and not even among likely voters.

On substance, this was the least-relevant debate of them all.  Not only are voters not really watching for substance — which they could get rather easily by watching campaign speeches, after all — but foreign policy isn’t even really on their radar at all.  This economy is still all about jobs and the economy, as I point out in my column for The Week:

No matter who you think won last night’s presidential debate, it’s unlikely to have much bearing on the presidential election. In the end, voters simply don’t care about the issues of foreign policy anywhere near as much as they do about their own economic security.

That, by the way, is the norm for American presidential elections. In the last four presidential cycles, only 2004′s matchup between incumbent George W. Bush and John Kerry produced a foreign-policy issue with more mentions as “the most important problem” facing the nation among Gallup’s respondentsthan a domestic-policy issue. Not surprisingly, voters expressed considerable concern over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, two major campaign issues in that cycle, with 23 percent listing wars as among their most pressing problems in the final month before the election. The economy in general only got mentioned by 21 percent of respondents, although 12 percent also mentioned unemployment. …

Gallup’s latest polling among American adults confirms this focus. While foreign policy may be the one arena where presidents have the most impact, it gets the least amount of concern in this cycle. This election has the largest percentage of “net economic mentions” of any of the last four cycles — even slightly higher than 2008, in the middle of the panic over the possible collapse of the financial sector (72 percent to 69 percent, respectively). Almost two-thirds of the responses came from “the economy in general” and “unemployment,” and 12 percent from the federal budget deficit. The wars, which still got 11 percent of the mentions in 2008, have now dropped to 3 percent in 2012.

These numbers do not change appreciably between men and women, either. In fact, women were slightly more likely to mention the economy and unemployment (64 percent) than men (62 percent). Health care came in a distant third for women (10 percent), while for men the federal deficit got the bronze (14 percent). Foreign policy only got mentioned by 3 percent of men and 4 percent of women overall — and in a blow to the Obama campaign’s attempt to stoke their “war on women” meme, only 1 percent of women even mentioned abortion.

This result shows how out of touch and off-key the Obama campaign has been in the final few weeks of the election. While Obama and Co. focused on Big Bird, voters worried about jobs. While Democrats obsessed about “binders,” women across the country were far more concerned with the economy.

Obama can’t win on the economy, and he can’t distract voters away from it.  And in a debate on stage alone with his challenger, he can’t even come up with enough gravitas to make himself look like he already has the job.  With two weeks to go, that’s a bad position for an incumbent.

Update: This obviously doesn’t include reaction to last night’s debate, but Romney hit 50% in Rasmussen’s tracking poll for the first time since early May, and now has a 4-point lead over Obama.


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See, I am not a leftoid. I am a fiscal conservative. Just saying Romney, the TARP supporting liberal, performed like a milquetoast middle of the road liberal.

You don’t need 700 billion to fight terrorism.

Faramir on October 23, 2012 at 2:38 PM

A liar and a “leftoid”, but I repeat myself…always amusing the way some try to fool us…

“I have, my whole life voted Republican, but Mitt is just too fare to the left for me, I have to vote for Obama a democrat for the first time in my life”….yeah, as if he hadn’t heard that one before…

right2bright on October 23, 2012 at 3:39 PM

I just get disappointed with partisan hypocrisy(also dems) every election.

nathor on October 23, 2012 at 11:12 AM

I get disappointed when someone doesn’t understand what is at stake…you have a choice, Obama or Romney, it’s that simple.

Right now you should have made a decision, once that is made, you do what you can to win the election, because no matter what your beliefs/policies are, it means nothing if you are not elected.

So you may be “disappointed”, but that’s like saying you are disappointed because your team is leading by 2 points in the final of the Super Bowl and your team takes a knee to run out the clock…sure it’s “safe” but it means a win.

We are going for the win right now, the final few weeks, not who is using less partisan politics…not been through many of these huh?

right2bright on October 23, 2012 at 3:45 PM

See, I am not a leftoid. I am a fiscal conservative. Just saying Romney, the TARP supporting liberal, performed like a milquetoast middle of the road liberal.

You don’t need 700 billion to fight terrorism.

Faramir on October 23, 2012 at 2:38 PM
I am not a big fan of Romney as judged by my posts on the subject for the past half year. That said, I have no idea what you are, but you calling yourself a “fiscal conservative” is so wrong on so many levels.

Anyone with half a brain KNOWS that Romney was actually AGAINST TARP. You simply keep repeating liberal LIE. He was also against GM and Chrysler bailouts. Romney’s Bain background simply points out that he, of all people, understands how managed bankruptcy and selling chunks of companies work for the benefit of bond holders.

But a REAL “fiscal conservative” understands all of those issues. And you don’t. So…

Either stop spewing talking points LIES here or prove you are “fiscal conservative” and actually learn a thing or two about someone you post about.

As Obama says, Romney was for TARP before he was against it. Can’t tell which is it with Romney.

Faramir on October 23, 2012 at 4:08 PM

You don’t need 700 billion to fight terrorism.

Faramir on October 23, 2012 at 2:38 PM
Which shows why you and fools like you should never be tasked with defending the country.

Just keep talking like that, and you’ll prove how little you know. It sounds as though you don’t have much of a grasp on reality. Do you believe that, somehow, we can cut out military spending and the rest of the world will just make nice-nice all the time?

You’re no ‘fiscal conservative’. You’re an idiot.

Solaratov on October 23, 2012 at 2:49 PM

Nice, I notice you didn’t counter my argument with any facts. I didn’t say we have to make nice. We just have to do more with less. We are cutting NASA and should be cutting social programs. Why does the US have to spend more than all other nations combined.

Faramir on October 23, 2012 at 4:10 PM

As Obama says, Romney was for TARP before he was against it. Can’t tell which is it with Romney.

Faramir on October 23, 2012 at 4:08 PM

Axelrod, is that you? Shouldn’t you be readying Chicago bathhouses for Hussein by now?

Listen, MORON, and listen carefully.

Its not what the IDIOT in WH says that makes something true, its what FACTS say. And FACTS SAY that Romney was NEVER for TARP. Provide links or get lost.

Liberal useful idiots show their true self by blindly spewing talking points that have no basis in fact. Just as Idiot Hussein did during all 3 debates. EVERYTHING out of his mouth was nothing but LIES.

Your IDIOT COMMUNIST DRUG BLOCK ORGANIZER can say whatever he feels like, it still won’t make it true, by any measure. The gig is up even with many Dems now.

DKoz is missing a village idiot…

riddick on October 23, 2012 at 4:41 PM

Why is Palin, who lost us the last election, praising Romney? LOL

Faramir on October 23, 2012 at 5:16 PM

Why is Palin, who lost us the last election, praising Romney? LOL

Faramir on October 23, 2012 at 5:16 PM

Why are liberal trolls getting more and more desperate and pointless?

Oh, BTW…..Palin was not the cause of the election lost, despite what liberals wish to believe.

Animal60 on October 23, 2012 at 5:23 PM

Why is Palin, who lost us the last election, praising Romney? LOL

Faramir on October 23, 2012 at 5:16 PM
Why are liberal trolls getting more and more desperate and pointless?

Oh, BTW…..Palin was not the cause of the election lost, despite what liberals wish to believe.

Animal60 on October 23, 2012 at 5:23 PM

Right….and Romney is going to win this election, too? I’m sorry to toot my horn, but there will be many sad faces when the debate momentum swings back to Obama.

Faramir on October 23, 2012 at 5:44 PM

Oh, BTW…..Palin was not the cause of the election lost, despite what liberals wish to believe.

Animal60 on October 23, 2012 at 5:23 PM

Funny how these liberal mental midgets conveniently forget that it was Shillary who actually won Democratic primaries and Dem “leadership” (that’s a misnomer in there) pushed her aside and installed Hussein as their “candidate”. So, who is really driving war on women?

riddick on October 23, 2012 at 6:12 PM

Why is Palin, who lost us the last election, praising Romney? LOL

Faramir

Who should she be praising, Obama? We’ll leave that to you, Mr. Conservative, lol.

xblade on October 23, 2012 at 6:14 PM

I – along with the majority of Americans – do consider the Bush admin’s economic actions (and in many cases, lack of actions) to be the the single largest contributing factor to the recession.

verbaluce

They’re called idiots. That’s how we ended up with the worst president ever in the White House now. Just because idiots like you believe things that aren’t true doesn’t make them true.

Perhaps you believe in magic.

bayam

If we believed in magic, we’d be voting for Barack “the seas will stop rising” Obama.

Nothing better than an ad hominem attack in response to a deficit reduction plan designed to appeal to the feeble minded.

bayam

So you ARE on board then.

Ah yes, the crowd that just can’t begin comprehend why the economy hasn’t returned to full employment after a financial crisis only comparable to the Great Depression..

bayam

Not really, but we know you need as many excuses as possible to cover for the failure of President Obama to fix things the way he said he would, so have at it. Just know we know better.

By the way, wasn’t it Obama who said we’d be back to full employment by now? Thank you for admitting thathe doesn’t comprehend how the economy works either. Not that it was a secret.

xblade on October 23, 2012 at 6:17 PM

We should not flatter morons by responding to their pitiful posts.

slickwillie2001 on October 23, 2012 at 6:30 PM

there will be many sad faces when the debate momentum swings back to Obama.

Faramir on October 23, 2012 at 5:44 PM

That is funny as hell. You’re not real bright and about as dim as they get.

CW on October 23, 2012 at 7:59 PM

If Romney wins, one of the most interesting consequences will be watching Hot Air and it commenters forced to shift gears to be supportive of their country’s leadership, rather than destructive. During the Bush years, we got to see how Fox News operates as a government house organ, and it won’t take much for them to shift back to doing that job.

But Hot Air and the right-wing blogosphere as we know it didn’t really take off until Obama was elected and vitriolic, spittle-flecked assaults on the executive branch became the order of the day.

Can Hot Air be Hot Air when you folks have to build a barn rather than burn one down? It will be fascinating to see.

Drew Lowell on October 23, 2012 at 11:36 AM

We’ll have 8 years to figure it all out.

IamDA on October 23, 2012 at 8:23 PM

During the Bush years, we got to see how Fox News operates as a government house organ, and it won’t take much for them to shift back to doing that job.

Drew Lowell on October 23, 2012 at 11:36 AM

YET ANOTHER COMMUNIST LIE WITHOUT A SHRED OF PROOF.

Too bad McCarthy and McCarran did not finish the job of getting society rid of COMMUNIST CANCER.

riddick on October 23, 2012 at 8:44 PM

I get disappointed when someone doesn’t understand what is at stake…you have a choice, Obama or Romney, it’s that simple.

none of the above?

Right now you should have made a decision, once that is made, you do what you can to win the election, because no matter what your beliefs/policies are, it means nothing if you are not elected.

i will vote for romney, ut it just feels bad.I wont be surprised if i just skip it…

So you may be “disappointed”, but that’s like saying you are disappointed because your team is leading by 2 points in the final of the Super Bowl and your team takes a knee to run out the clock…sure it’s “safe” but it means a win.

actually my criticism was of bloggers and commentators of this site. now that romney is up, they will shift their views like he does.

We are going for the win right now, the final few weeks, not who is using less partisan politics…not been through many of these huh?

right2bright on October 23, 2012 at 3:45 PM

what exactly we win i still not sure.

nathor on October 23, 2012 at 9:08 PM

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