This morning, I argued Mitt Romney should, in the words of my old debate coach, knock Obama into the dirt.
When I wrote it, I was hopeful he'd understand that Obama has always been less than he appeared. I hoped he would be tuned up and ready to take command of the debate. I hoped he would articulate, and not excuse conservatism.
And I prayed he wasn't going to go for a cheesy "zinger" strategy.
I wanted him to at least survive what I believed would be a spin room post-hoc blood orgy by the very aggressive Obama press team.
The debate deserves a careful deconstruction (and yes, fellow conservatives, we had good stuff and less-good stuff in the messaging), but in the shortest term, I'll say just a few things.
First, wow. Wherever this Mitt Romney comes from, more please. He was confident, enjoying himself, and willing to challenge Obama's narrative at every turn. Romney had the Happy Warrior vibe tonight, and it showed. His easy physicality, his steady cadence, and his will to win were evident.
Obama's affect started off with a weird, tight, contained vibe. He was never happy to be there, even when he was giving Michelle an anniversary shout-out. When he said, "Next year, we won't be doing this in front of 40 million people" you could see him thinking, "...and maybe not even in the White House." He was pursed at times, smirking at others. He is so obviously a man who can only thrive as the only star in the spotlight.
Next, Romney was clearly inside Obama's OODA Loop for the entire debate. He was ready for every single attack, and I suspect Obama abandoned a "47%" sally because he realized Romney was ready for it. After the first few minutes, I was shocked that Obama would lay out attacks he knew Romney was prepped for. It's too late at night for a policy dissection, but Obama's strawmen and class-war talking points were anticipated, and dispatched time and again.
Three really big things happened tonight: first, Romney reset the campaign atmospherics.
On the excellent Ricochet live chat, the sense that Romney was on his game filled folks with a new level of energy and determination. My email inbox was exploding with notes from friends in the VWRC who had spent the last three weeks in a terrible funk. As one Romney adviser told me tonight, "He put the whole team on his back."
Buddy, he put the entire GOP and conservative movement on his back.
Second, Obama defused a handful of his most potent arguments against Romney, including Social Security and Medicare. He dug in hard on Obamacare and the infamous IPABs (can we say "death panels" again, yet?) and kept putting his head on the block for Romney to chop off.
This matters not only on the merits of the arguments themselves, but because even his most fierce partisans disheartened and in an emotional free-fall. Michael Moore, Andrew Sullivan, Bill Mahr, Chris Matthews, et cetera ad nauseum were devastated. A reporter in the spin room texted me he could barely find an Obama surrogate.
Their tears are delicious.
Finally, it was good to see the qualities of the man, not just the campaign. Romney was finally on the stage where he needed to be. He was finally standing across from Barack Obama, taking his measure, and from the first few minutes, he knew he had Obama's number.