If there’s one thing that will be written in the history books about the Election of 2012, it will likely concern the close nature of the race – and the deep divide that currently exists in America over the future direction of the country.
That divide was on full display on Tuesday night during the second presidential debate (at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, moderated by Candy Crowley of CNN), where Republican Mitt Romney and President Obama went toe-to-toe – sometimes literally – arguing back and forth over policy positions, all the while largely ignoring the audience and Crowley’s pleas to move on.
And, in the case of Obama, ignoring the truth. Especially on Libya.
We said last week’s Vice Presidential debate was ‘nasty.’ This was just about as mean, but was probably more even-handed for both candidates. The liberal media will probably score it a tactical victory for Obama, but scorecards don’t necessarily tell the real tale.
If Obama “won,” it’s only because he didn’t act like a corpse like he did in the first debate. Obama showed some Biden-like life on Tuesday night – and for his followers, that’s all that was needed.
Mitt Romney was pretty much the same candidate he was in Denver – steady, measured and careful. He failed to use many of the conservative ideas that he should have to counter the president’s blather – in that sense, a missed opportunity.
But in the end, a very even debate.
Romney in the lead?
Probably the biggest single change from the first debate was the aura surrounding positioning in the race. Whereas Mitt Romney took the stage in Denver as the undisputed (at least according to everyone except those in his campaign staff) underdog, his entrance in New York was one of being at least tied – and possibly leading the race.
Instability must be a familiar feeling for Romney, having endured several changes of fortune throughout the Republican primary season. His bad loss in the South Carolina primary knocked the inevitability out from under him (in January), and there were several more tense moments where it was hardly a sure-thing that he’d win the nomination.
He’s been behind from the beginning of the general election race, however, so the improving poll numbers of the past few weeks must feel like a breath of fresh air.
Mitt Romney excels when he doesn’t have to prove – through his record or his proposals – that he’s not the most liberal person in the room. Romney spent the better part of a year trying to convince Republican voters that he was conservative enough to lead the party. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.
Against Obama, there’s no question that Romney is more conservative. Obama is so far to the left that even Romney’s waffling on some issues still leaves him looking more conservative. And seeing as America is a center-right country, that puts him in good shape.
All he needs to do is avoid trying to out-liberal Obama – and that would even be a tall order for someone who was trying to do it.
The difference between two weeks ago and now was evident in this debate. The cameras captured Obama’s piercing glare on a number of occasions, particularly when Romney directly confronted him over energy policy and the number of permits that had been cancelled during the current administration.
Obama is clearly a little put-off by the notion of having to answer for his policies – and it wasn’t just about energy. Obama squirmed when asked about what happened in Libya, and needed Crowley to intervene to save him (by saying he did talk about “terrorism” the day after the Libya attack).
One voter questioner said he voted for Obama in 2008, but needed a reason to do so in 2012 – particularly because everything is getting so expensive. Obama can’t answer that question… especially since gas prices are twice as high now than they were on Inauguration Day in 2009.
Fallout from the VP debate
It’s safe to say most people wanted to see how Obama would follow-up on a universally agree-upon underwhelming performance in the first debate – and whether he would take an outwardly aggressive posture like Joe Biden did last week in the vice presidential debate.
Obama’s first debate showing certainly gave off the impression that he didn’t care, as he listlessly went through the 90 minutes without scoring any major points against Romney. While it’s true that Obama doesn’t have much of a record to run on, he would be expected to vigorously defend what he views as “accomplishments” in the same way Biden did.
But Biden clearly went overboard, as most polls showed that Paul Ryan “won” in Kentucky – or at the very least, earned a draw.
A much more spirited Obama showed up on Tuesday night. For those who like Obama’s style, it was a good performance. He’s always been good about appearing to be for average people, and he certainly made that case again in this debate.
Obama smiled through many of Romney’s answers, and worked hard to not look like he was perturbed – quite a contrast to his running mate. Obama deserves credit for being a skilled politician. He played the game well in New York.
Town hall: Most challenging format for Mitt?
Throughout the Republican primary season, and then into the presidential campaign, many observers have commented that Mitt Romney’s biggest challenge would be to cast off the “aloof rich guy” persona to be able to connect with “average” American voters.
After all, most Americans aren’t worth hundreds of millions. And Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion won’t allow him to belly up to the bar and share a drink with the patrons.
Photos of Romney jet-skiing during a retreat at his mansion-sized ‘summer home’ in New Hampshire didn’t help with his image. It looked like a slice out of “Lifestyles of the rich and famous.” Definitely, a look at how the other half lives.
Face it, Mitt’s got money. The Republican Party designed their convention around trying to turn Romney into someone you could relate to -- and maybe even be friends with.
So it was interesting to see how he would do in the town hall format next to Obama, who is not exactly a ‘regular guy’ in his own right, going straight from academia into politically oriented work.
Both of them looked uncomfortable at times on Tuesday night. Obama’s not great when he doesn’t have his teleprompter, and Romney stutters a bit when he’s trying to throw out too many ideas too fast. Obama’s well versed in a rhetorical sense, but there’s no substance to what he says.
Romney, on the other hand, looks like he could talk for hours on every question – and time limits his ability to articulate.
In other words, the format favored neither of them.
No Candy for you
CNN anchor Candy Crowley was charged with moderating the town hall debate, and announced prior to the event that she was going to inject herself into the conversation – which brought about cries of foul from both campaigns.
The questions were supposed to come strictly from the supposedly undecided voters (chosen by Gallup) attending the debate, somewhat calling into question the need for a “moderator” in the first place. Fox News personality Mike Huckabee hosted several forums during the GOP primary season, and he didn’t do much of the talking at all.
Crowley did try a number of “follow-up” questions after the candidates were done talking, but was often interrupted by the competitors trying to slip in one (or more) additional points on the previous question.
I don’t think Crowley did a particularly good job as “moderator,” but if she erred, it was in letting the candidates get away with too much. She didn't steer the conversation as much as she was run over by it.
Finally, a real discussion of energy
It took a citizen-questioner in order to bring out the very real issue of higher gas prices. There isn’t a single item in this country that hits real pocketbooks harder than prices at the pump.
Obama stammered through an answer about how increased global competition is partially responsible for the hike in prices. He also made another plug for alternative energy, and said that production has increased under his watch.
It sounded nice, but I would think even liberals would admit that the situation is pretty bad.
Romney pounced on Obama's weak answer, as well he should have. America is not doing all it can to harvest traditional energy resources while also looking to renewable sources – and Mitt did a very good job of pointing that out. This is the one single issue the Democrats have absolutely no answer for – all you have to do is ask people filling up their gas tanks.
Stupid questions, stupid answers
With questions coming from a general audience (and selected by a liberal moderator ahead of time), you would expect there would be some whoppers.
We weren’t disappointed. One young lady asked about equality for women in the workplace, and what the candidates would do to help level the playing field for women…. Talk about a softball question for Obama, who proceeded to talk about the Lilly Ledbetter law (a whole separate subject onto itself) and how he wanted to make sure that contraception was available for women as an “economic issue.”
It was a classic example of dumbing down to pander to an audience – a skill that Obama is particularly adept at. Did Obama learn nothing from Sandra Fluke? Do people really need the federal government to ensure that they have birth control pills? It’s a national joke – and the fact Democrats are still trying to make hay on this is telling.
Romney countered by saying that he wasn’t for taking away birth control from anyone. Why would he? He also explained that he wanted to make conditions better for women by improving the overall economy. It was a good answer – but did he change any minds?
The other completely stupid question involved assault weapons – and what Obama would do about them.
Obama’s answer was terrible, which made you wonder what he was trying to accomplish. He talked about comforting families after the Colorado shootings – what did that have to do with banning assault weapons?
Romney talked about eliminating the conditions that lead to gun violence, and enforcing the laws that we already have. A solid answer. But again, does common sense factor in here when you’ve got squishy people asking about the matter in the first place?
Who's got the edge on foreign policy?
Foreign policy would normally be a strong point for an incumbent president – after all, they’re almost completely in charge in this regard and have an opportunity to talk about all the good things they’ve done to improve America’s image abroad. But with the recent terrorist attack in Libya – and the subsequent bad news brought forth from the State Department – foreign affairs is probably something Obama would rather avoid.
Obama tried his best to dodge the Libya question, and to argue that he called the attack an act of terrorism early on. The only problem – there’s a lot of video evidence contradicting what he actually said.
The administration is doing a very poor job of explaining away their initial reaction to the attack – that it was spontaneous and the result of the controversial anti-Muslim video.
Libya is proving to be a real Achilles heel for Obama – and much more so than it looked like just a few weeks ago. Judging by the reaction of focus groups after the debate, it could end up costing Obama the election.
Please, please, tell the truth on Immigration
The somewhat inevitable question on immigration brought one of the better exchanges of the evening, with Obama defending the administration’s record (all the while, pandering as much as possible to his Hispanic voters) and Romney pointing out that Obama broke his promise to get comprehensive reform done quickly.
It was actually heartening to hear Romney’s answer – flatly rejecting amnesty as an option. He looked the questioner in the eye and said that he was in favor of enforcing the law, and then telling other immigrants to get in line.
Obama tried to tie Romney to the Arizona law (which of course he depicted as unfair and racist), and utterly failed to make Romney look like an “uncaring” monster on the issue.
Obama cannot demagogue his way out of this one – he hasn’t done the job, and it’s highly unlikely that things would improve in a possible second term.
I get the impression that people are getting sick of the Obama’s spin on the way things are in America. Where 2008 was an airy “hope and change” message, 2012 is all about “what have you done for me lately?”
Obama cannot make a compelling case for another four years, as the economy is still terrible, the national debt is growing by the minute and his attempts to pit groups against each other is just not resonating.
This debate probably did little to alter the balance of the race. Those supporters of both candidates are only more resolved to buckle-down for their man because of it – but it might make a difference in the all-important enthusiasm factor.
Romney’s voters will feel motivated to go out there and fight harder because of what was said on Tuesday night – and Obama’s people will wait for someone else to do it. He's not worth fighting for.
With one more debate to go, we’re all on the edge of our seats to see how all of this will turn out three weeks from now.