1. So I was right about everything. The questions leaned farther left than would have been likely if Crowley had to take full responsibility for what was asked. Crowley spent a lot more effort interrupting Romney even though Obama was doing more talking. Crowley even intervened in the conversation on Obama’s side in a way that I can never remember happening in any presidential debate.
2. I though Romney won the energy/economy exchanges decisively. Obama’s “We inherited a bad situation and Romney’s tax cuts are the kind of thing that caused the crisis” stuff is played out and makes no sense anyway. If the Bush tax cuts caused the financial crisis, how come the continuation of those tax cuts to the present moment hasn’t caused another disaster? How come Obama is (officially) for keeping the vast majority of those tax cuts? Who is stupid enough to believe that lowering the top marginal income tax rate from 39.9 % to 35% contributed to the financial crisis? Nobody.
Romney was really good at pushing the weakness of the present economy and he came across like he had a clear (if not personal) sense of how people are hurting. Obama was a lot more vague when talking about people’s economic difficulties and that made him look a little weaselly. It was less “I feel your pain” than “let me change the subject to Romney’s tax plan.” Romney’s “5 point” plan doesn’t work for me, but he seemed to have good command of the economic stats, so it came across sort of plausible. I guess. The only things I really remember about Romney’s plan are energy and..uh…energy.
Still, Romney took advantage of the tilted playing field on the economic issues and Obama couldn’t shake the realities of the unemployment rate, gas prices, rising health care premiums, etc. Even though the instapolls said that pluralities thought that Obama “won”, the same polls showed Romney getting higher marks on economic issues. I think that the center-right is missing a spin opportunity here. Romney won on the highest salience issues and that is pretty good basis for claiming a win on the metric that matters.
3. But if you were watching yesterday’s debate as something other than a political sports fan, the economic discussion was wretched. It was a lot stupider than in the first debate. There was nothing in last night’s debate to compare to the really thoughtful Obama-Romney exchanges on Medicare policy. We did get to spend time on…
4. Assault weapon bans? Really? Is there any ranking of public priorities that rates new gun restrictions as anything above an asterisk? Violent crime has been going down during the Obama administration and has been trending lower since the early 1990s or so. People are going to have their hobbyhorses, but having that be one of the (few) questions asked was a failure of moderating by Crowley.
5. Speaking of moderating failure: You could tell that Crowley knew she had made an unprofessional error when she intervened to argue that Obama had called the Libya consulate attack an “act of terror.” She knew that there was some ambiguity in Obama’s Rose Garden statement (especially when you include the context that he refused to refer to the event itself as an act of terror for days later), and she spent the later part of that exchange trying to clean up after herself by noting that Romney was right in some ways. She then went on her own network and said that Romney was “right in the main.” This is what I meant yesterday when I wrote about the subtle influence of “leftworld” on even well meaning liberal journalists. Crowley had probably spent the last several weeks hearing from her liberal friends and acquaintances that Jim Lehrer had been too weak (on Romney),that Lehrer had been too passive (toward Romney) and that Lehrer had allowed lies and distortions (by Romney.) She was primed to go off and she probably didn’t even know it. Peer effects are a hell of a drug.
6. When Romney talks about foreign policy, he comes across like a man who is trying to appear genial while fighting off waves of nausea. I don’t know that Romney has ninety (or even thirty) minutes of material on foreign policy for the last debate. I also doubt that he has a clear idea of how to talk about foreign policy issues at length in a way that will appeal to the median voter and not set off a civil war within his own party. If I was a cynical, cold blooded political advisor, I don’t know what I would tell Romney to pretend to believe on Afghanistan.
7. I can imagine a conservative reformist candidate making a better case on the economy than Romney. I can imagine that candidate running on a more attractive tax proposal that offered tangible benefits to middle-class families while making the tax code more growth friendly. I could imagine Bobby Jindal or Mitch Daniels doing that. But those Republicans didn’t run and we don’t actually know how they would have done in a real race. What we do know is that Romney is by far the best debater of the Republicans who actually ran. Romney isn’t a natural communicator, but he has gotten the most out of his ability. You can pick apart some of the answers Romney gave during the last two debates, but Romney has done as well as we could have reasonably hoped.