There was no doubt that the final debate of the 2012 presidential cycle was going to be lively. The big question, considering the growing disrespect and rudeness of both candidates in the prior debates, was if one of the candidates would spontaneously hit the other. The lesser question was whether President Obama would be able to stem the tide of enthusiasm for Mitt Romney.
From the start the demeanor of the candidates, and the stern look of Bob Schieffer, made it clear that a physical brawl was not in order. Both candidates noticed the high negatives they had both received for their interruptions and talking over one another. A civil but visceral brow beating was the order of the night.
For President Obama this was a critical debate. He had massive ground to recapture, and at the least he had to hold back the trend that clearly is going against him in almost every major poll walking into the night. If this debate displayed any obvious weakness, his bid for re-election was over.
For Mitt Romney, there was far less ground to gain. Equally, there was almost nothing to lose, provided he appear upbeat and competent. All he had to do was make a couple of strong points, in a subject that the President currently was already taking hits on in the media, and he could maintain his lead. If he got luck and President Obama slipped at any point, he could bask in the votes he would gain.
Both men were bringing their A-game. Matching that task was Bob Schieffer. He had watched the prior debates, learned the maneuvers of both men to try to sneak more time, and was wary of the cliff that Candy Crowley jumped off of. This was going to be the debate that the other 2 should have been.
From the start, the look of President Obama conveyed trepidation, anxiety, and a touch of anger. Like in the other debates, as the night wore on more of the anger in the President shone. This anger came out verbally as well as in the facial expressions of the President. perhaps this was most clear when Mitt Romney highlighted the letter from 38 Democrat Senators about the relationship between Israel and America.
But anger was not the only unexpected emotion. There was more than a bit of arrogance too. It displayed a concern, not about the election or even the state of the nation, but how President Obama will be remembered by history books. It may have been missed by most of the public, but political junkies and pundits are sure to have picked up on this – though more than a few in the media will be recalcitrant to discuss it.
Mitt Romney on the other hand played the night very calmly. The kind of appearance that would win many a hand at Texas Hold’em. If the debate were to be judged on only which candidate looked more presidential, Romney won the night.
In the first question of the night, predictably on Libya, Romney took a wider stance than in the 2nd debate and gave up a chance to make an early attack. President Obama equally switched gears to emphasize the horror of Ghaddafi and the very American appeal of spreading democracy in the world. But missing a chance to attack was not in the game plan of the President. He struck the first blow of many going back and forth, setting the tone and pace and presenting himself as somewhat less than presidential in the process.
This of course lead to the first misstep of President Obama. In attacking the position of Romney to keep troops in Iraq, he took a position assuming that he would not do the same. Fact checks by AP and Politifact clear remind us that President Obama wanted to keep troops in Iraq too. But Iraq turned the President down, a double blow for anyone that recalls the situation of reads the fact check, as not only was the President misstating his position it also highlights his failure to achieve it. Further, President Obama made the issue personal – immediately countered by Romney, taking the President to task on his demeanor and hinting at desperation to win.
But this was just the early round. The debate continued with an intensity of words and accusations. Telling were the blows by Romney in addressing the chilly relationship between the U.S. and Israel – also a Politifact true statement and an issue we covered. Far less factual were the attacks by President Obama on Romney about outsourcing jobs, China, and Osama bin Laden (all rated half-true by Politifact).
Still President Obama did have the best line of the night. Without doubt a soundbite that will be heard around the world
The second best line does go to Romney, but it has far less universal appeal to it. Still it did convey a rousing pro-America gut-feeling.
Of course both men strayed off the foreign policy focus of the night. They tactfully diverged into the economy, the subject that is the real issue of the election. As often as Bob Schieffer tried to pull them both back to foreign policy, both found a way to steer away from it. The economy is just too vital an issue to not address at every public forum. Here too, President Obama tried for another knockout punch on the auto industry – and once again fact check by the Washington Post provides a clear distinction of what is real and what is just good TV.
Romney for his part took the soundbite pleasing but highly debatable route of the ‘Obama apology tour’. While well reasoned after the fact, it just isn’t credible enough to stand on its own for those that did their own research.
In the end though a winner must be declared. Mitt Romney looked and acted the most Presidential. He was the least anxious to score body blows, though he was not above more than a few jabs. He was generally at least as factual, though it may be too early to tell for sure. he was also the most assured when he made his points, while President Obama was obviously steaming at points where facts could not be misunderstood.
Emotionally, President Obama held the night. He was more eager to pounce. He was more visibly engaged in trying to say everything in the most important manner. President Obama was going for the win among the public least likely to read a fact check or recall events with the clarity of the media or political junkies.
The net result? Bob Schieffer introduced a calm yet turbulent debate that outclassed his peers by far. The polls will likely remain surging for Mitt Romney, though likely in smaller increments than they could have. Few who watched the debate will be readily swayed from the position they already held. Those that have not made up their minds likely will still be unsure, though they may lean more towards the presidential appearance of Romney to the more emotional talking down lecture of President Obama.
M V Consulting, Inc does NOT advocate any candidate or incumbent in any local, State, or national election. We seek to provide the broadest coverage and information on each candidate and incumbent so that voters may make an informed decision on how they want to vote – whatever that vote may be.