Dominating. Decisive. In command. Those are just a few of the descriptions of Mitt Romney’s performance that I read from my Twitter stream after the debate — which I missed while in class last night. Romney scored a big win by all measures and practically by acclamation; even Michael Moore had to angrily concede defeat last night:
What’s that silence I hear? No one throwing a party? No one saying this election is a slam dunk for Obama? What happened to the victory lap?
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) October 4, 2012
“President Romney?” Anybody worried now? Get it the F together, Team Obama. And the rest of us? What are WE doing tomorrow?
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) October 4, 2012
With all that domination, one might expect Romney to have out-talked Barack Obama in the debate. We saw plenty of complaints about the moderator, PBS anchor Jim Lehrer, from the Left. However, an analysis by my friend Eric Ostermeier at Smart Politics shows that Obama actually got more talking time during the debate. Romney only had, er, forty-seven percent:
In a debate in which both candidates were supposed to receive equal speaking time, President Barack Obama was given 12 percent more airtime Wednesday evening at the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Colorado.
Obama spoke for 42 minutes and 40 seconds or 52.7 percent of the candidate-allotted speaking time.
And while Romney at times appeared to interrupt moderator Jim Lehrer, perhaps he did so for good reason.
A Smart Politics analysis finds that Mitt Romney spoke for 38 minutes and 14 seconds, or 47.3 percent of the candidate-allotted speaking time – a full four minutes and 26 seconds less than Barack Obama.
In other words, we’ll be hearing plenty from the Left about Lehrer’s supposed inability to stand up to Romney, but that wasn’t the problem at all for Obama. Obama got more time; he just did less with it than Romney did. In part, that’s because it’s more difficult to play defense, which is the fallback position that David Corn takes at Mother Jones:
The first presidential debate, on Wednesday night in Denver, demonstrated that it is difficult to defend progress regarding a sluggish economy and far easier to decry the status quo and promise to do better than the guy in charge. Romney repeatedly described President Obama’s actions as failures because the economy remains troubled and claimed he would be the white knight that rides to the rescue. He displayed conviction and passion as he did so, tossing out purported facts and repeatedly referring to Americans he or Ann have met who have shared tales of hardship. …
Romney looked delighted to be at the debate, assertively accusing Obama of underperformance. Obama came across as more tentative. He certainly had the harder argument to make: saying the economy is moving in the right direction when that movement is not fast enough for millions. But even Obama’s assaults on Romney’s archly conservative policies lacked focus and vigor.
The usual talking points were hurled back and forth. Yet Romney appeared better able to turn his into more specific attacks on Obama, particularly because the president was in a awkward position: How do you defend yourself from the charge that you should have done more? Obama pointed to accomplishments and positive developments in the economy, tax cuts for the middle class, his successful rescue of the auto industry. But that didn’t fully answer Romney’s bottom-line accusation.
On one level, Corn’s right. It is tougher to play defense in debates, which I pointed out yesterday in my pre-debate analysis. Incumbent Presidents have that disadvantage, and even when Ronald Reagan could point to massive new job creation by October 1984, he still lost his first debate against Walter Mondale.
However, Corn misses the point. He gripes that Romney could shrug off attacks from Obama that used highly suspect analyses from a left-leaning think tank and a former Obama aide about Romney’s tax plan, but Romney was prepared to answer those attacks. Obama clearly wasn’t prepared to answer Romney’s attacks on his record — and he’s had three and a half years to prepare for that. What did Obama and his team think Romney had planned for this debate? An extensive dialogue on the 47%? Of course not; Romney was going to attack Obama’s record.
And that’s the heart of the problem. It’s not the moderator, and it’s not the incumbency per se. It’s the fact that Obama has a poor record in his term, and that Obama can’t explain how more of the same will work out better in a second four years. Even with a four-and-a-half-minute head start, Obama can’t defend his record, and his straw-man arguments won’t work when Romney is on stage to answer them.
I’ll have a few of the better moments later this morning.