Buoyed by a powerful debate showing, Mitt Romney said Thursday he offers “prosperity that comes through freedom” to a country struggling to shed a weak economy. President Barack Obama accused the former Massachusetts governor of running from his own record in pursuit of political power…
Not even Democrats disputed that Romney was likely to benefit politically from the debate Wednesday night in which he aggressively challenged Obama’s stewardship of the economy and said his own plans would help pull the country out of a slow-growth rut…
“Victory is in sight,” Romney exulted in an emailed request for donations to supporters. It was a show of confidence by a man hoping for a quick reversal in pre-debate public opinion polls that showed him trailing in battleground states as well as nationally.
During the opening prep sessions, the group quickly came to a consensus: At the podium, Romney would be forceful, nearly as assertive as he was in Healey’s living room. His advisers have always admired Romney’s ability to peel apart arguments in private, and they encouraged him to do the same at the debate, with a little polish. The goal was to overwhelm the president with liveliness and information, to force him to confront the messy details of his economic and fiscal record. The strategy, sources say, clicked with Romney for two reasons: He did not want to spend hours tinkering with his mannerisms, and he wanted to focus on internalizing data. He’d take advice on his voice, his posture, and the rest, but he wanted his prep time to be a policy workshop…
The practice made a difference. One longtime Romney friend tells me that Romney markedly improved throughout September as he devoted himself to his briefing books and the mock debates. The friend says Romney didn’t think of the debate as a political dialogue but as a grueling, 90-minute competition that demanded discipline. He prepared in the same way he used to review pending business deals at Bain Capital: He challenged his closest advisers about the most minor points, he spent a lot of time reading, and he constantly bantered with his aides about the other side’s weaknesses and strengths.
“This is a campaign that believes he can win,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “Once Romney was on stage with the president, and he was able to score points against him, there was a Wizard of Oz effect that pulled back the curtain. There’s a renewed effort and spirit that wasn’t there a couple days ago.”…
“Romney really breathed new life into his campaign, that’s for sure — it’s too bad we didn’t see this Romney sooner because he could have been leading in the polls,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “This was the Massachusetts moderate that Democrats feared, and he showed that he was a principled but practical conservative willing to reach across party lines.”
Romney didn’t just demonstrate authoritative command of a myriad of domestic issues. He was nervy about it, taking the president on frontally, not just relentlessly attacking, but answering every charge leveled against him — with a three-point rebuttal.
And he pulled off a tactical coup by coming right out of the box to undo millions of dollars’ worth of negative ads that painted him, personally, as Gordon Gekko — rapacious vulture capitalist who doesn’t just lay off steelworkers but kills their wives — and, politically, as intent on raising taxes on the middle class while lowering them for the rich.
The Romney campaign had let these ads go largely unanswered. But a “kill Romney” strategy can only work until people get to see Romney themselves. On Wednesday night, they did.
The problem for Mr. Obama isn’t that he seemed indifferent or peevish on stage, though he did. The problem is that it underscored what has too often been his countenance in office.
He came to Denver with no larger theme he wanted urgently to get across, no story to tell, no apparent passion for the chance to make himself understood and make his opponent look silly. He was there to defend his policies, but he wasn’t going to get all needy about it, and no one was going to make him have an ounce of fun.
In contrast, Mitt Romney seemed eager to make his case, exhibiting some amount of apparent desperation, like the teenage suitor who has 10 minutes to convince his girlfriend’s father to bless the marriage. That desire to be understood counts for something.
America got its first, sustained look at the good and competent Mr. Romney. And it really was a first. He wasted his convention but showed up for his debate, and an estimated 58 million people were watching. Many of them were taking his measure for the first time. What did they see? He was confident, gracious, in command of the facts. He looked like a president, acted like one. He was easily the incumbent’s equal and maybe more than that, so he became for the first time a real alternative to the incumbent, a living one, not just a name on a ballot.
He has been painted as Richie Rich, a too-tightly-wound reject from the Republican Animatronic Presidential Candidate Factory. But again, that’s not who he was. He was a normal, smart adult, and he knew things both about America and about public policy. He’s supposed to be extreme, but he was not in the least extreme. He spent his time talking not just to Republicans or conservatives but to the American people, a huge and varied lot. He reminded many of them of something they’d perhaps forgotten along the way: We don’t like the Obama economy! We don’t like ObamaCare! We don’t like not having jobs! Nothing personal, but this didn’t work!
Forced by time constraints to be clear and concise in his statements, he was both. Here we must stop and note: The way Mr. Romney spoke in the debate was the real Romney. The faux-flowery “prairie fire of debt” one we hear on the stump is the not-real Romney. He flowers himself up on the stump because he thinks it makes him sound better. It doesn’t. The real Romney is the one who can communicate. He’s straight and direct and not fancy, forgivably jargony, but worried about America and sincere. That’s the Romney who showed up for the debate. Stay that guy!