On style, Mitt Romney ran away with the debate. President Obama barely showed up, and seemed to be completely disengaged and bristly. Romney denied and attacked consistently and constantly, and Obama sort of repeated himself and backed off of capitalizing on huge entrees.
Then again, debates don’t win elections – zingers and good performance don’t win debates. Dan Quayle defeated Lloyd Bentsen, you guys. George W. Bush was one of the least articulate candidates in history, with a superficial grasp of issues and he defeated Al Gore and John Kerry.
But here’s the thing – Obama is weakest on the economy. This performance may have been a strategic choice. After all, we still don’t know how Romney will pay for his tax plan, do we? We still don’t know the details of what he’d replace Obamacare with. We don’t know how he’s going to get insurers to cover pre-existing conditions without Obamacare/Romneycare’s promise of more customers through a mandate.
Instead, Romney started in with death panels again, and Obama meekly defended the Affordable Care Act’s advisory groups that would streamline care and make it more efficient for patients. Instead, Romney repeated the “take $716 BN from Medicare” lie.
The Republicans are demonizing efficiency and cost-cutting.
When Romney somehow tries to claim that Obamacare differs from Romneycare, he’s lying. When your lie is caught and you then devolve to a state’s rights argument – why should people in Iowa have worse access to care than people in Massachusetts? If health insurance universality is worth doing, it’s worth doing universally. Obama’s failure was in not confronting Romney on his blatant lies.
“I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don’t have a tax cut of the scale you’re talking about. I think we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class. But I won’t reduce the share of tax paid by high-income people. … I’m not looking to cut massive taxes and to reduce revenues going to the government. My number one principal is, there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. I want to underline that no tax cut that will add to the deficit.”
So who’s right?
Romney has run for months on a plan to lower everyone’s tax rates by 20 percent — an amount that independent analysts have concluded will reduce revenues by $5 trillion over 10 years.
Romney has also insisted that his plan will be deficit neutral and that it won’t increase taxes on the middle class. But according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center and other analysts, Romney won’t be able to make good on both of those latter promises.
According to TPC, even if Romney closes all loopholes and deductions for high-income earners, that alone will not account for all the revenue he loses because of the rate cut. Thus, to make the overall plan deficit neutral he’d have to raise the tax burden on middle income Americans.
If Obama had the attack line on deck, responding to the lying denial should have been ready to go in the dugout. It never came to the plate. Obama got a few good lines in, delivered sleepily. Obama asked whether Romney was “keeping the details of his plan secret because they’re too good?” Under Obamacare, insurers will no longer get to “jerk you around”. On substance, Romney seemed to pretend that the world began in 2008, and Obama did practically nothing to disabuse him of that notion.
Obama said, “budgets reflect choices. If we ask for no revenue, we have to get rid of a lot of stuff…severe hardship for people, and no growth.” It was too wonky by half. The poor economy is most people’s central issue. Selling the successes and benefits of health insurance reform is critically important. Obama whiffed on all of them. He didn’t strongly defend his administration’s record, he didn’t strongly enough rebut Romney’s lies and promises, and he simply sleep-walked through the thing.
On a side note – Jim Lehrer also barely showed up. I have never seen a less structured debate or a less forceful moderator. At times, he was simply trying to get a word in edgewise, saying, “um…hey….guys”. Perhaps someone slipped something in Obama’s and Lehrer’s drinks.
Twice, Romney claimed that Obama wanted “trickle-down government”. Along with his tax claims and his health care obfuscation, I suspect that this is a line that will come back to haunt him.
It’s easy to be confident and outperform your debate opponent when you’re lying. Romney tried to remake himself last night as a champion for the middle class – this is the same guy who opposed the auto bailouts and denigrates 47% of the population as victim moochers. Time will tell how this will play out, but debates aren’t game-changers. Coming up:
Thursday, October 11 – Vice Presidential Debate
Tuesday, October 16 – Second Presidential Debate (Town Hall)
Monday, October 22 – Third Presidential Debate