Back to Square One—Almost
No, I have no bright theory about why Barack Obama performed so poorly in his first debate with Mitt Romney, other than being thrown by the “new” Romney he faced.
Failed strategy? Overprepared? Underprepared? Tired out? Thin air? Just didn’t want to be there? Some strange psychological blip a friend calls a “brain snap”?
You’ve heard them all, but we will never have the real answer unless and until Obama himself analyzes it and puts it into a memoir. The question is whether that memoir is of a one-term or two-term presidency, because the event has some potential to change the outcome of the race.
I’m not saying it’s all over. Far from it.
In Gallup’s daily, the most reliable tracking poll to date, as of Sunday Obama dropped from a six-point to three-point lead (49-46). But Sunday’s result was the same as Saturday’s, which might be an indication that the bleeding has stopped.
The Rasmussen poll, which is less reliable because of its methodology and which tilts Republican, gave Romney a two-point lead on both Saturday and Sunday, also suggesting that his post-debate bump topped out.
It’s possible that Friday’s dip in the unemployment rate to below 8 percent helped mitigate some of the damage done by the debate, though it is now conventional wisdom that Romney gave the performance of his life and the president gave one of his poorest
Miscellaneous polls in some swing states suggest the president was hurt in a few important ones, but overall he retains a good lead in the Electoral College. Wait for some of the reliable pollsters to tell us more later this week about both the national and state numbers. At this writing, neither the complete numbers nor the trendline are known, but some lessons are obvious.
Obama must be more aggressive in pointing out his clear-cut accomplishments, most notably saving the auto industry through government action, while Romney prescribed bankruptcy for the carmakers. (How would his late father, head of American Motors, have taken that?)
Obama must also recognize that Romney may have permanently Etch-a-Sketched himself into the “Massachusetts moderate” he kept so well hidden until now. But Romney’s protean shape-shifting should be derided vigorously and his questionable statements must be called out.
Four weeks and two more debates offer sufficient time and opportunity to rebuild. The vice presidential debate this week is unlikely to move any numbers, but it does give Joe Biden the chance to hang Paul Ryan with his initial budget plan to turn Social Security into a voucher system—a key campaign issue. Maybe Biden can also needle Ryan about his continuing inability to come up with the arithmetic that makes the Romney-Ryan budget work.
Again, we can’t be sure about the full extent of Romney’s rise and Obama’s drop in both likeability and the head-to-head horserace polls. We are writing new page of history here.
On the other hand, we do know one thing, having watched Obama for many years: He learns from his mistakes and rarely makes the same one twice.
Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer
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