News analysis: Mitt Romney stands tall by almost any measure, pundits agree

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 3 2012 10:39 p.m. MDT

Chris Matthews unloads on Obama after first presidential debate

The tweet stream and the immediate spin after the presidential debate Wednesday night reflected a fairly strong consensus that Mitt Romney won. Flash polls by both CNN and CBS after the debate showed a decisive Romney win. The CNN poll showed respondents gave him a 67-25 percent edge in public perception over President Barack Obama.

"Very important night for Mitt Romney. And he rose to the challenge," tweeted Chuck Todd at NBC.

Rachel Maddow at MSNBC demurred: "I don't know who won tonight," she said.

Bill Maher tweeted, "I can't believe i'm saying this, but Obama looks like he DOES need a teleprompter."

Tweet of the night might go to Vanity Fair, which tweeted, " ... Obama wouldn't win a student council election against a chubby nerd with that closing argument."

Andrew Sullivan, a dogged left-leaning attack dog was openly despondent. "How is Obama's closing so (expletive deleted) sad, confused, lame? He choked. He lost. He may even have lost election tonight."

Conservative humorist David Burge tweeted, "Remember when they found out about Milli Vanilli? Yeaahhp. Pretty much that."

And University of Virginia uber-political scientist Larry Sabato tweeted, "Well, that should take care of any D overconfidence about the election."

And James Carville, of all people: "I didn't want to reach this conclusion but I did...Romney wanted to be there...Obama looked like he didn't want to be there."

And setting aside style for substance, National Journal's Josh Kraushaar called the debate "one of the most substantive TV debates in the modern era. Refreshing contrast from GOP primary."

***

The commentators at MSNBC were despondent. Chris Matthews' leg was numb.

"What was (Obama) doing tonight?" Matthews asked, "He went in there disarmed. He was like, I've got 90 minutes, and I'm just going to get through this thing, and I don't even look at this guy, where Romney — I loved the split screens — staring at Obama, addressing him, like the prey. He did it just right. 'I'm coming at an incumbent. I gotta beat him. I've got to beat the champ, and I'm going to beat him tonight. And I don't care about this moderator, whatever he thinks he is, because I'm going to ignore him.' What was Romney doing? He was WINNING!"

On style and rhetoric, Romney was much more effective. In a pattern he also showed in the primary debates, Romney almost always squared his shoulders to Obama and spoke directly to him. He used "you" repeatedly, taking the conversation straight at the opponent. Obama, like most debaters, looked into the middle distance, or spoke vaguely to the moderator.

Romney used lists, but used them effectively. He almost never opened his mouth without knowing the three, four or five points he was going to make, and he made them, and usually summarized them, without appearing the least bit rote or forced.

Romney would not let himself be cut off. Somehow he managed to wrestle for the ball, time and time again, without appearing to knee the moderator or the president.

Romney would also not allow a key point to go unchallenged. A funny exchange occurred early in the debate where Obama insisted that Romney's tax plan involved a $5 trillion tax cut. Romney directly contradicted it. And Obama repeated it again. Romney would never let it slide.

To counter a favorite Obama meme, Romney introduced a clever phrase: "trickle down government." He also introduced a useful budgetary metric: "Is this project so important that it is worth borrowing money from China to fund?" And then he singled out PBS, and even took on Big Bird with a "no."

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