Last night liberals got to see their day brighten and Andrew Sullivan has walked back from the ledge. The Barack Obama that allowed Mitt Romney to push him around two weeks ago was gone, replaced by a crisp, focused political master.
1) Obama had a strategy: Everyone is talking about Obama “showing up” and “fighting back,” but the more important difference between this debate and the prior debate is that Obama had a strategy. That strategy was: everything you do should be about the middle class, more than being “wrong” Romney should be cast as a liar. When you consider that as a strategy and rewatch the debate (or just soundbites) you see the strategy in action for almost every question. And it worked.
2) Romney’s self-inflicted wounds were costly: To quote the classic SNL spoof commercial “Bad Idea Jeans” commercial, “even though it’s over, I’m going to tell my wife about the affair.” Mitt Romney felt that moment in his closing — “even though the debate is over, I’m still going to bring up my 47% comments.” What was he thinking?
On Benghazi, Mitt Romney joined the rest of the Republican Party in completely botching what would otherwise be a simple layup of a political attack. Republicans seem so fixated on accusing the President of “covering up” the details around the Benghazi attack even though the actual argument for Republicans is “Obama let us get attacked because he didn’t protect our Americans abroad.” Obama fought back against that “real” argument well, but the memorable moment will be Romney’s giddy effort to claim that Obama concealed the fact that this attack was a terrorist act and getting deflated when Candy Crowley was prepared to fact-check him in real time.
No attack does is as devastating as a self-inflicted wound. Ask the San Diego Chargers.
I will also note that President Obama opened his response by taking responsibility for the safety of diplomats. I think this threw off Mitt Romney’s planned attack upon Obama’s failure to take responsibility before and it allowed Obama to exert maximum moral authority to swat down Romney. Did someone predict that this was coming?
3) “I’ll hire you” is not a plan: In two questions, Mitt Romney responded to economic questions by personalizing the story, and in the process failing to provide a plan. In the very first question, Romney explained that he’d go ahead and hire a student wanting a job. Then on a question about the employment of women, Romney told us that he’d hired women before (though the “binder” story is kind of a lie) and given them flex time. These answers don’t address creating an environment that could improve the job prospects of either questioner, but reflected Romney’s unfortunate natural instinct that he can fix the problems himself by just paying for it. I don’t think that Mitt Romney meant this, but it’s certainly what it looks like.
4) Obama has just given up on gun control: Someone asked about gun control. Oh silly voter! Didn’t you get the memo that the NRA has effectively captured battleground state populations so thoroughly that neither party is willing to regulate guns. Both talked about tangential issues — Romney told us about how single moms cause gun violence, while Obama extolled the virtues of more education. This issue deserved better exploration, but that would require a motivated moderator willing to wade through the dodging, and while I thought Crowley did a good job, she was hemmed in by the format to move immediately to the next question.
5) The double turn: If you are in an argument and say, “you should lose because your plan is bad,” you’ve got something. If you say, “you should lose because you failed to keep your promise,” you’ve got something. But if you say, “You should lose because you failed to keep your promise…which would have been bad.” This is a logical knot that you cannot escape, and is exactly what Mitt Romney gave us when going after President Obama on immigration. Obama broke his pledge to America by not passing his plan…though it would have been a disaster had he gone ahead and done it. Huh?
So liberals go ahead and breathe that sigh of relief and get some rest. I’m about to.