Before the presidential debate began, I had expected Romney to be creamed. The Obama team was steamrolling for weeks or months now and it appeared that Romney was doing a terrible job at campaigning for the election. Yes, Obama is only maintaining a slim margin, but that margin has not been changing much. Already various commentators are scratching their head, thinking how on earth did Romney screw up his chances?
Plus, given Obama’s oratory skill, if the debate was a trap, then Romney was going straight into it.
Boy, was I wrong. I underestimated Romney and I am sure Obama did too. At the very least, the Obama team did not do enough preparation for the debate.
Quite the contrary, Romney was the debater. Almost throughout, Romney was the dominant debater that at times, it might have surprised Obama. Obama appeared stumped at times. So dominant was Romney, that the moderator of the debate was Mitt Romney and it was not Jim Lehrer.
I thought the reason Romney was so dominant was that he appeared to have changed his position, or at least his rhetoric. He sounded so reasonable that as I was watching the debate on television, I said to myself, “wait a minute. Did he say that?”
After a while, it was clear that this debate was about the middle ground. There was no Tea Party, there was no Occupy rhetoric. I thought this was yet again the affirmation of Hirschman’s Exit, Voice and Loyalty. During the primaries, one appeals to one’s base. Romney, after being accused as being too liberal, moved to the right to fight off the more conservative Republican candidates. During a national election with no conservative to fight against, he appeals to the median voter. One needs to win the primaries first, before one can win the presidential election, after all.
Romney played that card in this debate.
Obama did not see that coming and he struggled to overcome the new, extremely confident Romney. Even on the issue of healthcare which I think Obama has an edge, Romney met Obama head on without a flinch.
From the debate, which was very wonkish, I thought Obama lost it. He lost on taxes and schools. Even on financial regulation. Imagine that.
No, I do not think Romney won the debate on financial regulation just because I am a libertarian. I claim so because Romney said he wanted clearer regulation, not less regulation after Obama effectively said Romney wanted to return to old-style no regulation. Romney brought up the qualified mortgage case as an example of bad regulation and Obama had no answer for that. In fact, Obama, struggled to reply on the wider issue of too-big-too-fail. Indeed, Romney turned the Main Street-Wall Street debate, which is naturally a Democrat’s strong point, on its head that Obama lost his bearing.
And so, I thought Romney won the domestic policy debate.
There are two more debates. The next two debates will be about foreign policy and while I do think Obama will win that (Romney’s foreign policy, I think, is horrible), I am preparing myself to be surprised.