Saturday, October 06, 2012

Race for the White House

31 Days Until Election Day

I decided I would support Mitt Romney early on in the process of two consecutive Republican nomination contests. The first time did not quite work out, but in this year of 2012, the former Governor of Massachusetts was nominated and through all the ups and downs of a difficult general election, has proven why he was nominated and why I deemed him worthy of getting behind from the start. I have long wanted Mitt Romney to be the standard bearer of the Grand Old Party precisely for a night like this past Wednesday.

With an international spotlight on Denver, Colorado, and with tens of millions of Americans watching, the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney debated and defeated in that forum, the standard bearer of the Democrats, Barack Obama, the incumbent President, and a candidate who had been seen as one of the most inspiring and effective political communicators of all time.

Last week, I said it was likely that while I was likely to come away pleased with Romney's debate performance, I would also be wishing that he had done a bit more. I am pleased to say that I was wrong and that my candidate did almost everything right. I also believed that it was likely the media pundits, and the flash polls of debate viewers would score a win for Obama, due to his perceived large lead in the race and his political aura. I was wrong on that as well. Even the media, and pundits of all stripes, could not deny the fact that Romney got the best of the exchange and was strong, while Obama was weak. The flash polls of viewers, including those of undecided voters, gave the edge to Romney at a level unseen in the history of those polls after Presidential debates. Watching the 90 minute debate, I could tell that Romney was doing very well and that Obama was at least a bit off his game, as were the people I was watching it with. I was not sure though that the media would totally be willing to say so, or that viewers would share the same opinion, as my admittedly biased, partisan self. They all did though, far more than I would expected, even while watching the debate.

It is interesting that there was no great or bad single moment in the debate to dominate the coverage and the narrative. There was no gaffe, or instantly viral one-line zinger. Instead, it was just a thorough and complete domination of the showdown by Romney from start to finish. One candidate showed up to win and the other merely showed up. There was a moment pretty early on in the debate where Governor Romney was speaking and the camera was also on Obama's reaction and I could almost tell the thought going through his head as being , "oh crap, that is not John McCain over there anymore."

Being totally honest, I do not think Obama gave the worst performance in the history of debates, and it is true that incumbent Presidents often struggle in their first debate. There are a lot of reasons for that, and they have been talked about frequently in the media since Wednesday. Mitt Romney was very good though and gave, stylistically and substantively (though Democrats will of course quibble with that), one of the best debate performances by any Presidential candidate ever. This all happened despite the fact that with a rule change in the debates, taking away the guarantee of equal time for the first time ever, Obama actually got four more minutes to speak than Romney did.

While I am not willing to as far to say it was the most lopsided drubbing in Presidential debate history, it was a clear victory for Romney, and with the expectations game being what it was going into the debate for both men, and whom people expected to win, the outcome might very well mean that when the history of this campaign is written, this first debate, focused solely on domestic issues, changed the trajectory of a Presidential campaign more than anything ever had before.

This showing by Romney could not have come at a better time for his campaign and party, as Republicans had continued to be quite discouraged about his prospects, on the wake of most polls that had come out since the Democrat convention. Voters, activists, and donors were all energized by the performance and the very narrative of Romney giving Obama his comeuppance, that it should have a powerful effect as the race now enters the final month homestretch. I believe the race was still very close before the debate and I believe it still is. Republicans should definitely not get cocky or take things for granted, as Democrats might have been before the debate, but Mitt Romney left that stage clearly in a far better shape than he was when he walked out onto it, and both he and Barack Obama obviously knew so at that moment.

The reaction by those on the left, especially on MSNBC was nothing short of hilarious. They could not try to spin this as a win for Obama and were left literally shaking their heads at what happened. Since the debate ended, everything has been alleged from Romney cheating with the aid of a handkerchief (Democrats always seem to accuse Republicans of having some sort of secret cheating advantage after debates) to Obama being tired from the altitude of the Rocky Mountain State (which obviously had no effect on his 2008 convention speech which they found inspiring), to his not wanting to come across as an "angry black man" because there was a much hyped by Sean Hannity and Matt Drudge 2007 video of Obama that was talked about the night before, to claims by Bob Woodward that something obviously must have happened in Obama's personal life that day or something sobering to a President in world affairs. They simply could not believe that Mitt Romney could go on a stage and defeat their candidate. My theory is simply that Barack Obama was missing his teleprompter and was at a loss to defend his lousy record as President without it.

Democrats also tried to blame the moderate, Jim Lehrer of PBS. While it is of course true that Lehrer's debate performance (as was the case in 2008) perhaps left some to be desired, both candidates were still on equal footing and as mentioned, Obama managed to squeeze out an extra four minutes from Lehrer. How can they possibly complain about him given that fact? The rules of the debate were the rules and Mitt Romney came to get a job done and if that involved imposing his will over the moderator and his opponent at times in order to say what he wanted to say, that's simply the completely fair sign of a good debater, a good candidate, and what would be a good President.

Since the debate, Democrats have claimed that Romney, who they admit gave a good "performance" did so because he was telling "lies" all night, and that Obama was so taken aback by those alleged lies, he did not know how to react. Gee. How dumb is that? If what Romney was saying, either about himself or about Obama, was so blatantly false, it should have been a piece of cake for the POTUS to try to point that out. Instead, he really did not offer much of a counter argument to so much. What was going on when Obama was not talking was even more telling, as he clenched his jaw at times, smiled uncomfortable while Romney was delivering painful political body blows, and oddly nodded his head in the affirmative at times, when Romney was doing just that. At one point early in the debate, Romney basically asked Obama to stop telling untruths about his plan, and Obama actually said "ok." At another point, Obama seemed to be asking the moderator to move on to another topic when he was struggling in a section (which actually also happened in 2008.) Speaking of those debates, (and I was on record as giving all three of them to Obama over McCain), while McCain did not even look at Obama in the first debate, in a contemptuous way, Romney spent much of the debate looking right at his opponent and addressing him in a very direct and adversarial way, but what came across as not a hint of anger or arrogance in word or tone. Only the most partisan of Democrats could say that Romney was "too mean" to Obama, and few attempted to do so. On the contrary, Obama seemed to be looking down at the podium during much of the time Romney was addressing him. It was almost as if it was a firm, but disappointed father explaining to an embarrassed son, why he disappointed him. However, Romney might have actually looked like the younger man on stage. He certainly had more energy.

I could go on and on talking about how much I enjoyed this debate and why it was so great for Republicans, but I just want to cover the fact that all the things that were said, by the left and right, for months, even years, about vulnerabilities regarding Romney's life, his record in and out of government, his wealth, his "flip flops", and all the supposed things and issues that could be used against him in a general election by his Democrat opponent did not come to pass. Not a single thing. If the moderator did not bring them up, Obama certainly did not try to take that initiative on his own. Therefore, it was a great night for Romney.

I said for months that my party should nominate Mitt Romney because he would be the best possible person to debate Barack Obama with the spotlights on and he more than proved it. For most of 2011 and well into 2012, people, especially conservatives would say that "Romneycare" would make it virtually impossible for the Governor to effectively make the case against Obamacare on the debate stage and that we would thus be throwing away one of our best issues. I said that when that time would come, Romney would be able to use the health care issue to his advantage in a way no other Republican could and that is exactly what happened! Of course it sounds like I am bragging here, but I cannot help it. I argued about this stuff online with my fellow conservatives for months, and it came to pass just as I knew it would. Whatever one thinks about "Romneycare", the Mittster was shrewd beyond belief in how he used it and the compliment trap that Obama fell into by trying to defend  his plan. Focus groups after the debate said how much they liked the fact that Romney had worked on healthcare in a bipartisan fashion in his state. All of this was just genius by the Romney campaign and proved that the supposed biggest downside to nominating him back in the primaries was invalid.

Also, I cannot help, as a political junkie to be amazed by the fact that a Republican was able to score major political points in the debate by accusing a Democrat of cutting Medicare, and the Democrat did not even try to counter. There were times in the debate, where Mitt Romney sounded a lot like the moderate who was able to achieve political victory in Massachusetts a decade ago, and I wondered if there would be post debate grumblings from the right. I basically have not heard anything along those lines. Conservatives were in love with the very concept of Romney beating Obama in a debate and think that the GOP nominee did all of us proud. To make things simple, we want to win. Bad. Republican partisans and pundits had grumbled that Romney was too absent from the trail and was holed up doing too much debate prep in places like Vermont. Well, whatever the Mittster did worked when it mattered the most. As he often did in the many GOP primary debates when he needed a win, he found a way to do exactly that.

As anyone who watches the campaign knows, Mitt Romney is not a perfect candidate and is certainly not a perfect communicator. When it mattered most though, in what is almost certainly to be the most watched debate, he prepared hard, came ready to do a job, and did it. He came across as both substantive, likeable, and every bit as Presidential as the incumbent; if not more so. We can see just exactly why he was so successful in business, if this is the way he approached boardroom meetings, etc. The undecided voter may really start to come to appreciate that acumen. Some say, as I do, that Obama came overconfident, thinking he would win by just showing up and that Romney was not even worthy being on the same stage as him. If Obama did not want to be there or did not study enough or was simply not able to do what people expected him to do, that just speaks poorly of him as a candidate and echos much of the criticism of him as a President itself. Perhaps the Clint Eastwood empty chair bit from the convention was more on than people realized.

I expect Obama to be far better prepared and more engaged when the Presidential candidates next debate the week after next, in the Town Hall format, which may make it a bit more difficult for Obama to try to go after Romney personally. I expect an overwhelming show of negativity from Joe Biden when he debates his Vice Presidential counterpart Paul Ryan this upcoming week in the red bastion of Kentucky. That is really going to be an interesting debate to watch. Joe Biden has the capacity to be really effective (and thus will blow Obama's performance out of the water by comparison) or to say something that could wind up being extremely damaging to the White House's reelection campaign. A national debate such as this will be a first for Ryan, so his performance will have to be considered a bit of a wildcard going into it as well.

As mentioned, Democrats since the debate have now realized what Obama should have said on the stage to counter the points Romney was making and all of that. Obama has said he did not "recognize" the Mitt Romney that he was debating. Perhaps, that is because the Romney they have been trying to define (responsible for the death of a woman, heartless businessman, etc) is not the real Romney, and people might have been able to see that. The attack ads that have been such a prominent part of the Obama campaign will continue to air, but I guess it is kind of the mark of a political coward to make claims in that forum, but then be unwilling, thusfar, to say anything remotely like that to a man's face.

Another sign to me as to how badly the Democrats lost this debate was all the focus that has been on Romney's proposal to cut the PBS subsidy. During the debate, Romney mentioned that while "loves Big Bird", he was not willing to borrow money from China to pay for it. The people who put Big Bird on the air make a ton of money in various ways and thus, Big Bird will always be around, but the left has been hammering Romney on this aspect of his deficit cutting plan more than anything else, thinking they can get a political advantage by standing with Big Bird.  They often accuse Republicans of being tools of Wall Street, but it appears as if Democrats are now beholden to Sesame Street.

There was some considerable good, and partially subject changing news for Obama and his party on Friday morning with the release of the September jobs report. To the surprise of almost everyone, the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent, the lowest of Obama's Presidency. They believe this is indication that people will think the economy is getting much better and that Obama is due the credit. Of course, there are some serious economic flaws in that argument, and reasons to believe the economy and the job situation remain very bad. A bunch of people may now be taking part-time work or dropping out of the workforce, causing the numbers to drop, but none of that is good for the economy. Romney and Republicans have tried to fire back with those points, pointing out that we are not in a "real recovery." The political implications of all this remain to be seen, and a ton of conservatives are convinced that Obama people falsified these numbers in a conspiracy (perhaps only after the debate debacle.) Allegations like that are probably a bit far fetched and would be virtually impossible to prove, so this will all be contested for the next month. If Democrats tout these numbers as a turning point, they better hope that the October numbers, which will come out literally days before Election Day, are not a step backwards. I think it is worth noting that last month's job numbers were supposed to hurt Obama in the polls and the opposite happened. It is still an open question if he will get a boost from this month's.

So, with two more Presidential and a Vice Presidential debate still to go, the race is as fascinating as ever for the last 31 days. It is very possible that Obama will right his debate ship and the media can go back to declaring him an overwhelming favorite for another four years, but the pressure will very much be on the Obama/Biden ticket for better debate results. It is quite true that if Obama could have won the debate against Romney or even held him to basically a tie, a ton of pundits, from both the left and right, would be more convinced than ever that the race was "over."

Instead, it looks anything but over and Republicans are energized as they have been in months. It may take a few more days before the entire post first debate impact is measured (and I think it will be a gradual thing, that will include the entire series of debates) but the early numbers nationally in the first couple of days indicate some definite movement towards Romney. Some swing state polling, done mostly by firms that Democrats believe are too Republican, indicate that suddenly the race in the most important states are now narrowly leaning towards Romney, and in fact, if those most recent polls were true and come to pass on Election Night, Romney will have passed 270 electoral voters.

I think there is a long way to go, and there will continue to be ups and downs for both campaigns. The polling data at the end of this upcoming week will be very interesting, but at the least, I think the Romney campaign managed to do itself a world of good on the heels of this first debate by proving the rumors of its political death were greatly exaggerated. Perhaps not a ton of votes will have instantly shifted to the Romney camp but what happened on Wednesday began a process for the relatively small amount of truly undecided voters to see the alternative to the incumbent in a different and more favorable light. They are now going to be more willing to watch him and give him the chance to make the final sell.

Democrats have loved much of this lengthy general election thus far, especially the month of September, and it has been equally frustrating to Republicans. October has gotten underway in a different fashion though, with the potential to take an Etch a Sketch to all the conventional wisdom that had come before.