The emperor has no clothes

There have been many great reviews of last night’s one-sided debate in Denver, but one of my favorites, by Charles Hurt of the Washington Times, was especially fun to read. Here are a few choice excerpts:

Bewildered  and lost without his teleprompter, President Obama flailed all  around  the debate stage last night. He was stuttering, nervous and petulant. It  was like he had been called in front of the principal after goofing  around for  four years and blowing off all his homework.

Not  since Jimmy Carter faced Ronald  Reagan has the U.S. presidency been so  embarrassingly represented in  public. Actually, that’s an insult to  Jimmy  Carter.

[…]

What  exactly was Mr. Obama’s strategy here? Did he figure with so many people   unemployed in this abomination of an economy he should go for the  sympathy  vote? Like voters could relate to a guy who is just scared  pantsless that he is  about to lose his job?

[…]

Almost pleading, Mr. Obama reached out to the moderator for a lifeline: “You  may want to move onto another topic.”

When an unexpected noise went off behind him, Mr. Obama wheeled around to  look as if to ask, “Time to go?”

Hopefully.

[…]

“I’ve been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Romney said in the most devastating  understatement of the night. “I maybe need to get a new accountant.”

Be sure to read Hurt’s entire piece here. All of us in the ABO camp have to be encouraged by last night’s debate. And with good reason. As Governor Palin noted, Obama was finally forced to defend his record for 90 minutes sans teleprompter and fawning media, and the results weren’t pretty (though not entirely unpredictable). However, while I don’t consider myself an Eeyore, I think a few words of caution are in order before anyone begins popping the champaign corks. First, the historical record on the predictive value of debates in accurately forecasting the eventual winner of the election is, at best, mixed. Yesterday James Pethokoukis posted the following graphic which makes this point succinctly:

 

There are, of course, instances where the debates definitely had an impact. The Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960, for example, certainly had an effect on that race, as did the Clinton-Bush-Perot debate in 1992 when Bush was caught on camera looking at his watch as if he had better things to do. The high water mark for debate importance was the Reagan-Carter debate in 1980 when Reagan asked his famous “are you better off” question. The race had been close up to that point but Reagan gained about a point a day afterwards and won in a landslide.

But there are at least as many instances when the debates had little or no impact on the outcome of the election (see above). That said, it’s amusing to listen to liberal pundits tell us that Romney’s big victory in last night’s debate doesn’t matter today after spending at least the last month assuring us that Mitt would be toast if Obama had won. Gee, I wonder what changed in the past 24 hours. Perspective, I guess. Anyway, I expect the race to tighten significantly in the next few days in terms of the polls, but will Romney’s surge last? That’s the big question. It reminds me of a story…

A short time ago in a country not unlike our own, there was an election in which a candidate from Massachusetts challenged an incumbent president. The challenger from Massachusetts had a reputation as a rich, aloof, patrician who had trouble connecting with the average Joe. The incumbent, on the other hand, was seen as much more approachable, the type of guy you’d like to have a beer with — even though this president imbibe. As summer turned into autumn, the incumbent appeared to be sailing toward a relatively drama-free re-election. The word landslide was uttered on more than one occasion.

But then the wheels came off. When both candidates appeared at a debate moderated, incidentally, by Jim Lehrer of PBS, the incumbent president was trounced by the challenger from Massachusetts. The challenger from Massachusetts was more relaxed, much sharper with the facts, and generally dominated the debate. In short, the challenger appeared more “presidential” than his opponent, despite the fact his opponent had been president for four years.

The incumbent, on the other hand, in post-debate analysis was variously described as peevish, bored, uncomfortable, and petulant. During the debate, the President looked pleadingly to Jim Lehrer for help on more than one occasion, hoping the referee, as it where, would step in and stop the pummeling. He was frequently caught on camera making faces, shaking his head, smirking, and looking confused. Indeed he gave the distinct vibe that he didn’t want to be there, that he was somehow above lowering himself to appear on stage with this lowly challenger from Massachusetts, not unlike the reaction of a child whose parents just told him that he must share his sandbox with the kid next door.

After his widely panned performance, the incumbent’s standing in the polls fell sharply, and we never heard the word landslide again. At least not in conjunction with the incumbent’s re-election prospects. The pundits used terms like “game changer”, “a whole new ballgame”, and “all bets are off” to describe the post-debate political landscape.

Does the above scenario sound familiar? It should, because it’s not only applicable to last night, but to September 30, 2004 as well.

Why is this relevant? Because as great as last night’s demolition of Hopenchange was, the fact remains that it was only one debate. Obama and Romney will face off in two more, and there’s still nearly five weeks to go until election day. In 2004 Bush recovered from his widely panned debacle in the first debate and went on to beat John Kerry in the second, town hall-style debate, a format which was more befitting his style and personality. And so too can Obama bounce back in the second debate which, coincidentally, also utilizes the town hall format. Bush, as we all know, went on to defeat Kerry in November. To do so he not only had to defeat John Kerry, but an overwhelmingly hostile mainstream media as well. Does anyone remember the Dan Rather-Mary Mapes hatchet job?

This year’s incumbent, with the corrupt media packed tightly into his back pocket, may well have an easier path to re-election than Bush did in 2004. Governor Palin warned last night that if Mitt Romney continues to gain ground, Team Obama won’t go down without swinging. After bearing the brunt of Obama’s attacks in 2008, Governor Palin knows what she’s talking about. I have no doubt that that there’s no level of Chicago-style thuggery to which Obama and his guardians in the mainstream media won’t stoop to take Romney out if that becomes necessary. Hopefully Romney heeds Governor Palin’s warning and is prepared for what’s surely coming his way.

Romney must stay on offense. Where has the Mitt Romney we saw last night been hiding? His Palinesque take-no-prisoners strategy constituted a welcome change to his heretofore suicidal strategy of running out the clock while behind. Which Mitt will show up on October 16th at the next debate? Will it be the timid, cautious, afraid-of- his-own-shadow Mitt Romney we knew prior to last night …  or this one?

The election may well turn on the answer to the above question.



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