Debate Recap

Thanks to all those who joined us for another live chat packed to the gills. A few of my initial thoughts:

— Romney was good for the most part, but slightly more uneven than in his first performance. As will likely be widely noted, he seemed astonishingly unprepared to talk about Libya and failed to capitalize on the fact that President Obama had completely failed to answer the audience member’s question about who was responsible for the failure to increase security in the run-up to the Benghazi attack. Romney will have to develop a much clearer plan of attack for the foreign policy debate next week.

— Romney was at his best when laying out a comprehensive indictment of Obama’s term in office. He’s learned to strike a perfect balance when laying out this litany — sharp without being demagogic, and disappointed without being condescending. He’s also perfectly calibrated his rhythm and tone — in his best moments, Romney has a sort of Reagenesque cadence, lending him the air of a kindly, patient grandfather.

As Ben Domenech predicted earlier, Obama did overcorrect a bit in reaction to his listless performance in the first debate. I don’t think it was quite as bad as Ben anticipated (Obama’s debating points were sharper and he was clearly itching for a fight), but his tone was needlessly aggressive at times. He reminded me of nothing so much as the guy who defends his girlfriend with excessive machismo because she yelled at him for failing to stick up for her before.

— Like Jonathan below, I actually quite enjoyed Jim Lehrer’s moderation of the first debate, which I thought brought us closer to Newt Gingrich’s free-form model than most of these forums. Candy Crowley started out fine, but she deserves to be pilloried for giving President Obama an assist when she (incorrectly) backed up his assertion that he had regarded Libya as a terrorist attack from the get-go. Fact-checkers are already unreliable enough on deadline. Let’s not have anchors try to wing it on live television.

— Unlike the first debate, I doubt this one changed many minds. If you’re an undecided voter (read: if you’re distracted by shiny things), I suspect your biggest takeaway would be disgust at the way Romney and Obama consistently bickered and talked over each other. Even for those of us who enjoy a little more thrust and parry, it was utterly fatiguing and both men came off petulant at times as they tried to nickel and dime the moderator.

— President Obama had one very savvy move. He saved his criticism of Romney’s ’47 percent’ remarks until the final moments of the debate, when Romney didn’t have a chance to respond (although Romney did anticipate the attack in his closing remarks). This probably didn’t have much of an impact in real time, as I’m sure a lot of viewers had tuned out by then. But it did provide a crisp sound bite, which will probably be much more important in the news cycle of the next few days than it was during the actual debate.

Upshot: I doubt the status quo changes from this debate. I suppose you can count it as a win for Obama in that it’s unlikely that this performance will dig him a deeper hole in the polls. But there’s nothing here that seems like a recipe for reversing the trajectory either. That should be cold comfort in the White House.