I fumed as Candy Crowley came to the defense of Barack Obama in confirming he had called the attacks in Benghazi on September 11th 2012 “acts of terror.” Her aid seemingly shut down Mitt Romney’s line of debate and made the candidate look desperate. Now it is true Obama did say in his Rose Garden address the words “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation“ but he was talking in broad strokes, not saying those acts themselves were driven by terrorists. After that speech Obama went on to appearances where he was asked pointedly if they were acts caused by terrorists and he refused to say they were. Meanwhile he continued to point to the YouTube video as the driver of the attacks.
In the post-debate interviewing I twice watched Crowley attempt to downplay the moment. Walking through her thought-process she said that when she boldly came to the presidents defense she didn’t know what he actually said, simply that she remembered hearing that day the words “acts of terror.” She then went on to clarify, as evidence against her recollection came up, that Mitt Romney was essentially right. A nice admission made after the fact, but one incapable of erasing the image of her striking down Romney in front of tens of millions of Americans.
Most conservatives I talked to or read before the debate expected this. Crowley was on record both slamming the Romney/Ryan ticket and declaring that she would stray from the rules and make the debate about her and not the participants. That is how the debate played out, with Crowley continually interrupt Romney, scolding him for trying to play by her arbitrary rules and filling up precious time trying to ask candidates follow-up’s rather than return to the audience that was supposed to make up the town hall.
Do I think Romney won? On style I believe it was a draw. Both looked fine, they were equally aggressive. On substance, while Obama won a few points, Romney was the clear victor. The president furthered no real vision for moving forward. He whined and complained about why he had no record to run on. He spent his time pushing fear and lame campaign arguments. When asked about equal pay he answered with contraception. When asked directly about why he didn’t take steps to secure our ambassador in Libya, he simply didn’t answer the question. He managed to cram in Big Bird but never found the time to talk about the debt crisis.
I was rather surprised to hear people say Obama was a victor on substance in any way. Mitt Romney presented a clear and concise five point plan. He deconstructed the failures of the administration over the last four years. He laid waste to the premise that Barack Obama could challenge his budget math when in fact the president’s own plans haven’t added up over the last four years. Romney clearly and methodically outlined every major broken promise of the Obama administration and showcased how the president took a bad economic situation and made it worse. Obama talked about Big Bird and contraception. On substance, there was no doubt that Romney won.
The president was more present and more aggressive than his previous debate and he was also loaded with one-liners. That is style and not substance. Far too often I heard “analysis” confusing the two.
On the format itself. Town halls need to go away. I have never been a fan of them and over the last few cycles they have been largely co-opted by the moderator. I don’t say that because it was somehow stacked against my candidate. The overall analysis going in was that neither candidate would excel at the format. Neither did. If the debate format is to bring out empathy and understanding, neither candidate came across. All the walking around, up and down, made the debate awkward and not engaging.
All of the pre-debate talk focused on the need for the candidates to be aggressive and put out scripted lines. It was clear going in that the media would judge the candidates on the same criteria as the last debate, especially Obama who needed to essentially wipe the slate clean and make up ground. The post-debate analysis largely judged them on that stated criteria and there was little or no attention paid to the people asking the questions. So why did they even bother bringing the audience into the room? If the moderator isn’t going to allow the audience to ask questions. If the candidates don’t seem to care about engaging them. If the commentators are largely going to ignore them in their analysis, why bother having them there?
I believe, like the Vice Presidential debate, people will take from this one whatever they want. Democrats will be excited, Republicans will believe Romney won, undecideds will continue living in the fog that leaves them incapable of deciding. I have said and continue to believe this is a 50/50 election. It could go either way and will be decided by a few thousand people on election day. Unlike the last debate, this wasn’t a clear and decisive win for either side.