Supporters of President Barack Obama asked for a more aggressive, engaged performance in the second presidential debate and he did not disappoint. Surprising an arrogant, complacent, and, at times, belligerent Mitt Romney with his refusal to let lies stand as facts, a focused President Obama knocked the former governor off his stride in the first minutes of the debate and he never regained his footing.
Moderated by a mellow, yet determined Candy Crowley, the town hall style debate began with a question from a voter concerned about finding a job post college graduation. Romney immediately touted his questionable record on education and job creation as governor of Massachusetts, where, as current governor Deval Patrick stated, he was “more interested in having the job, than doing the job.” The president took the opportunity to highlight his rescue of the auto industry, reminding voters that Romney wanted to allow Detroit to go bankrupt.
The back and forth of this exchange set the tone for the entire night. Romney, proving once again that he is oratorically ambidextrous, frequently attempted his usual flip-flop on the issues, but the president would not let that slide. He deftly exposed the superficial nature of Romney’s “5-point plan,” which is oddly reminiscent of the infeasibility of the “9-9-9 plan” of former GOP frontrunner, Herman Cain, reminding voters that Romney has yet to explain how he is actually going to achieve his plans for the economy.
Governor Romney’s says he’s got a five-point plan? Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That’s been his philosophy in the private sector, that’s been his philosophy as governor, that’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate.
You can make a lot of money and pay lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less. You can ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for it. You can invest in a company, bankrupt it, lay off the workers, strip away their pensions, and you still make money.
That’s exactly the philosophy that we’ve seen in place for the last decade. That’s what’s been squeezing middle class families.
And we have fought back for four years to get out of that mess. The last thing we need to do is to go back to the very same policies that got us there.
Even more striking, as the debate shifted deeply into taxes and economic policy, the president wrested control of perhaps Romney’s biggest soundbite from the first debate, Big Bird, while simultaneously telling Romney that if he is such a good businessman, he wouldn’t even trust himself:
We haven’t heard from the governor any specifics beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood in terms of how he pays for [balancing the budget].
Now, Governor Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here, I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion, and then we’re going to pay for it, but we can’t tell you until maybe after the election how we’re going to do it, you wouldn’t take such a sketchy deal and neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn’t add up.
“Sketchy” is the perfect word to describe Romney’s performance. When he said that he would not rely so much on China for the economic assistance, President Obama said derisively:
“When he talks about getting tough on China, yeah, keep in mind that Governor Romney invested in companies that were pioneers of outsourcing to China. And he’s currently investing in companies that are building surveillance equipment for China to spy on its own folks. That’s — governor, you’re the last person who’s going to get tough on China.”
And the Obama train never lost steam. When the question was asked how Romney was different than George W. Bush, the former governor itemized how a Romney presidency would differ from the Bush Administration. Obama took the reins of that question and insisted that yes, they are different, and Romney is worse:
“There are some things where Governor Romney is different from George Bush,” Obama said. “You know, George Bush didn’t propose turning Medicare into a voucher. George Bush embraced comprehensive immigration reform. He didn’t call for self-deportation. George Bush never suggested that we eliminate funding for planned parenthood. So there are differences between Governor Romney and George Bush, but they’re not on economic policy. In some ways he’s gone to a more extreme place when it comes to social policy. I think that’s a mistake.”
The president was clearly in his element. Romney attempted to fight back on accusations that he invests in Chinese companies and hordes money in the Cayman Islands, by asking Obama combatively about his pension. To which the president joked, “I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours, so it doesn’t take as long,”
The crowd erupted in laughter.
President Obama brilliantly framed women’s issues in the broader context of economic and family issues, calling out Romney for not supporting the Lily Ledbetter Act and equal pay for women. Romney, sidestepping that issue after tap dancing around his backpedal on women’s access to contraception, made the dubious claim that he should be trusted to care about women because when he was looking for skilled people to hire, he had his staff bring him “binders full of women” to peruse for high profile positions in his cabinet.
Perhaps the misstep that Romney won’t be able to recover from happened on Libya. With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton making news yesterday by taking responsibility for the security lapse that led to the terrorist attack on the embassy in Benghazi, Obama applauded her hard work but said the buck stopped with him. Romney, again, questioned the president’s foreign policy in the Middle East and even more boldly attempted to call the POTUS a liar.
Yes, on live television, Romney asked the president repeatedly to state that he called the Benghazi attack an “act of terror.” Obama responded with a firm, “Please proceed, Governor,” to which Romney turned triumphantly to the crowd and said it took the president two weeks to label it as such.
But he was wrong.
The response on social media was instantaneous.
Taegan Goddard @politicalwireThat exchange on Libya was Romney’s Gerald Ford moment. He was lost and not presidential at all.
Chuck Todd @chucktoddTeam Romney is going to wish they had that Libya moment back.
daveweigel @daveweigelHow the hell does Romney lose a round on Libya? And lose that badly?
The Washington Post @washingtonpostModerator corrects Romney. Day after attack, Obama did call #Libya an act of terror.
Jon Ralston @RalstonReportsRomney looks deflated, realizing what just happened on Libya, as he rotely answers gun question.
Blake Hounshell @blakehounshellHey Zeus that Romney meltdown on Libya was amazing.
Ben Domenech @bdomenechWorst answer of the night. RT @NKingofDC: Romney just lost a lot of ground on the Libya front.
Josh Greenman @joshgreenmanRomney lost this Libya exchange badly.
Blake Hounshell @blakehounshellRomney blew his big chance on Libya. Now compounding his mistake. Obama: “Get the transcript.”
Philip Klein @philipakleinRomney really blew the Libya exchange. Shocking.
Notably, the president finally acknowledged that his hometown of Chicago is riddled with violence, while discussing the possibility of reinstating a federal ban on assault weapons:
“What I’m trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence, generally. Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban re-introduced, but part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence, because frankly, in my hometown of Chicago there’s an awful lot of violence, and they’re not using AK-47s. They’re using cheap handguns.”
This was a low point in the president’s performance as he smoothly bypassed the issue of gun violence, which has weighed heavily on the hearts of the African-American community. Just as he made sure to show his passion and concern for the D.R.E.AM. and Lily Ledbetter Acts, among a number of pivotal issues, the fact that he did not speak more in depth on the issue of gun violence before deftly segueing to education was disappointing, though not unexpected.
Still, he clearly emerged the victor.
According to The Nation’s Greg Mitchell, all post-debate polls show President Obama being the clear winner of the debate:
The CNN poll found Obama won debate 46 percent–39 percent. Wolf Blitzer, this time, admitted up front that it was 8 percent skewed to GOP—just like the last two polls.
The CBS instant poll: Obama wins, with 37 percent, Romney gets 30 percent, 33 percent undecided. It had showed a similar win for Biden last week.
PPP poll of “moderate” voters in Colorado: 63 percent say Obama won. Nate Silver of The New York Timessurveys the surveys and finds a few additional national and state post-debate polls, all favoring Obama.
The clear takeaway from this debate is that Mitt Romney became entirely too comfortable after the first debate. He was unprepared for a clear, focused, engaged Obama, and it showed. He was hesitant where he needed to be firm, and rushed where he needed to be measured. From the NRA to immigration, he was reduced to a jumble of easily fact-checked talking points with no idea how to adapt to Obama’s challenges to his rehearsed, inaccurate statements.
In his answer to the very first question, Romney said that he presumed he would be president in 2014.
Not so fast, Governor. Not if President Barack Obama has anything to do with it.