…In some utterly new way the president was revealed, exposed. All the people whose job it is to surround and explain him, to act as his buffers and protectors—they weren’t there. It was him on the stage, alone with a competitor. He didn’t have a teleprompter, and so his failure seemed to underscore the cliché that the prompter is a kind of umbilical cord for him, something that provides nourishment, the thing he needs to sound good. He is not by any means a stupid man but he has become a boring one; he drones, he is predictable, it’s never new. The teleprompter adds substance, or at least safety. …

Was it the catastrophic execution of an arguably sound strategy? Perhaps the idea was to show the president was so unimpressed by his challenger that he could coolly keep him at bay by not engaging. Maybe Mr. Obama’s handlers advised: “The American people aren’t impressed by this flip-flopping, outsourcing plutocrat, and you will deepen your bond with the American people, Mr. President, by expressing in your bearing, through your manner and language, how unimpressed you are, too.” So he sat back and let Mr. Romney come forward. Mr. But Romney was poised, knowledgable, presidential. It was a mistake to let that come forward!

Was it the catastrophic execution of a truly bad strategy? Maybe they assumed the election was already pretty much in the bag, don’t sweat it, just be your glitteringly brilliant self and let Duncan the Wonder Horse go out there and turn people off. But nothing was in the bag. The sheer number of people who watched—a historic 70 million—suggests a lot of voters were still making up their minds.