Based on Last Night’s Debate Performance, Obama’s Internals Must Really Stink

One candidate walked into the final 2012 debate last night exuding calm, confidence, and behaving in a thoroughly-presidential manner.

The second candidate was hyper-aggressive, nasty, and myopically focused on landing a punch on the other guy instead of setting forth a positive vision of his own.

Would you have even known who was the incumbent if you had just arrived on our planet from Mars, Save Jerseyans? Doubtful.

Mitt Romney looked like the man nursing a lead; Barack Obama, by contrast, came across as a man desperately trying to regain his footing.

That’s why I know Governor Romney emerged as the foreign policy debate’s big winner…

It’s critical to remember that presidential debates are not graded by undecided voters like judges evaluate high school mock debates or olympic figure skating competitions. Knockouts like debate #1 are rare, and “points” don’t matter worth a hill of beans. Whenever a television pundit tells me who “won on the points,” I cringe at the futility of their observation. General perceptions are what matter on the big stage, and the man from Massachusetts accomplished exactly what he needed to over the past few weeks

Presidential contests are fundamentally popularity contests. Heading into the first debate, Mitt Romney had endured a full year of scurrilous character attacks from Republican opponents and devastating personal salvos from a superiorly-funded Democrat president. An endless wave of TV ads portrayed Mitt has a heartless capitalist who destroyed jobs and lives… literally. In March 2012, Obama unsurprisingly enjoyed an 18-point favorability gap over Romney. That advantage stood at 8.5 points on the even of the Denver debate.

Today? As of this writing, Mitt is up by 2-points on average.

That’s a huge swing, Save Jerseyans, and it’s one that is likely (though by no means certain) to lose this election for President Obama. Undecided voters and “soft” Obama supporters didn’t recognize the man from the attack ads when they finally saw Mitt and Barack side-by-side for the first time in early October. This also explains why the President’s battleground advertising has suddenly switched back to almost entirely negative messaging while Romney’s spots are increasingly positive. The later candidate is protecting/building a lead. The former candidate is fighting for his political survival in the hopes of redefining the race like he had earlier in the summer.

Unfortunately for the Obama camp, first impressions are far-and-away the most important. Half of the electorate watched Mitt debate the President on three separate occasions and generally approved. The President did nothing to disqualify Romney either through a forced fumble (read: Ford-esque gaffe) or exceptionally lopsided substantive exchange (e.g. Romney not knowing the president of a geopolitically important nation). Moreover, with the money battle more than tied up down the stretch, the President cannot rely on a paid media monopoly like he did over the summer months. Mitt’s already won the all-important economic argument, too. The President’s goose is cooked if he isn’t the most likable guy heading into Election Day.

So let the talking heads on MSNBC spin like tops about the President’s bayonets and Romney’s binders. These same pundits thought Biden and Obama would find a bounce in the last round of debates. They didn’t. Because debates aren’t won on points, folks. They’re screening interviews watched by 50-70 million interviewers, and Mitt succeeded in establishing himself as the acceptable alternative to a President who ironically can’t break 47% in the RCP average.

If you don’t believe me, forget the spin masters and rely on your own intuition; re-run the tape of the President’s performance last night and tell me how the candidates think they’re doing. I don’t need polls to tell me what’s self-evident through observation. Barack Obama carried on at Lynn University like a man whose campaign’s internal polling has given him cause for grave concern.


2 thoughts on “Based on Last Night’s Debate Performance, Obama’s Internals Must Really Stink

  1. Matt, that was the same exact conclusion that I drew from last night's debate. Obama's internal polls must show that he is in serious trouble (they're pulling out of NC, are trailing in FL and after last night, he has certainly lost VA). His handlers must have told him to go on the offensive, but both he and Biden don't know how to do that without looking and sounding arrogant and mean-spirited. I think Obama's creepy stare last night was not only forced, but the result of his anger and frustration that Romney wouldn't take the bait and fall into one of his preconceived traps. Romney's strategy was brilliant and he once again outfoxed and outmaneuvered the sitting – and increasingly lame – president.

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