So I just finished watching the first 65 minutes or so of the debate, and here are my thoughts,
1. This was the character Romney should have been playing all along – Romney at his best is a less affable and empathic (but more personally decent) Bill Clinton. A big part of Clinton’s appeal is his ability to talk policy in ways that relate to people’s lives. Romney is the guy who studies hard, knows his facts, and is focused on results. So when Romney shows that he is using his big brain and formidable work ethic to explain policies that benefit the public, he comes off as reassuring and somewhat likeable. When Romney tries to become likeable by avoiding policy issues, he comes across as phony and condescending. The smart, policy-focused Romney is the most likeable Romney that is going to come across on television. Hopefully that lesson has sunk in. The more Romney talks about the issues, the better off he is.
2. The big lesson of this cycle’s debates: Stop underestimating the intelligence of the American public – Looking at the post-debate polls, the Romney that showed up at the debate made a much better impression than the “humanized” Romney of the Republican convention. Why did they like yesterday’s Romney? Probably for the same reason Republican primary voters ultimately liked Romney’s primary debate performances more than Michelle Bachmann’s and Herman Cain’s. The lesson of this debating season is that if you have a plausible explanation for our circumstances, have proposals that connect to people’s lives, and can defend your proposals, people tend to like it. Having substance and making an effort to communicate that substance works a lot better than Cain’s 9-9-9, or Gingrich’s moon colonies, or Romney’s convention story about roses or Obama’s trying to skate through yesterday’s debate on smugness. I’m not saying that the American public is some kind of Brookings Institution seminar audience. Obama and Romney would both probably have gotten failing graded from such a crowd. I am saying that the public is smarter and more interested in the candidates showing issue mastery than the campaigns seem to think. It’s not for nothing that the two best received remarks of the general election season have been Bill Clinton’s Democratic convention speech and Romney debate performance.
3. The prevent defense is still for losers – Obama wanted the debate to be a nonevent. He spent the first part of the debate trying to make the debate a low key affair of two guys with Obama having slightly better ideas. The result that Obama was just incredibly boring for the first fifteen minutes or so. I would hear two sentences of Obama and if I didn’t force myself to focus, I started hearing Charlie Brown’s teacher. I think that may have been partly intentional on Obama’s part. The problem was that Romney didn’t play along and by the time Obama realized Romney was getting in some hits, much of the damage was done. I think Obama wishes he had tried to turn it into a slugfest.
4. Time – I haven’t seem all of the debate but Obama seems to be doing more of the talking and Jim Lehrer is forever trying to shut Romney up.
5. Finally a mention Of IPAB by Romney – I thought Romney did very well on Medicare, but he left a few points on the field in regard to Obama’s centralized rationing board. It wasn’t totally clear that Romney is for a defined Medicare benefit to go along with competitive bidding.
6. Nobody is rope-a-doping anybody – Romney didn’t give a bad convention speech and have a lousy September in order to lull Obama into a false sense of security. Romney just picked a bad strategy for a while. Obama didn’t look bad yesterday as part of master plan to destroy Romney in later debates. He just ran into a better opponent than he expected and running out the clock was the wrong answer on that night. What both of them are doing is very hard.