What Happened Tonight

I’ve been following the presidential debate tonight with 1,800 Power Line fans on Power Line Live, and tweeting here and there as well. So: what happened? I predicted on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show that Mitt Romney would do well. He did. I predicted that Barack Obama would do better than last time–he would almost have to. He did. I expressed concern that there would be argumentative curve balls from the audience or Candy Crowley. There weren’t, really, with the sole exception of when Crowley tried to earn her Democratic Party stripes by backing Obama’s claim that his administration was on to the Benghazi attack as an act of terrorism from the beginning.

So what is the bottom line? Obama has been sliding in the polls, and also in the opinion of political commentators. He needed something to happen tonight to reverse his decline. I don’t think he got it. He certainly was better than the impossibly lame president who showed up in Denver two weeks ago, but that is a low standard. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, continued to compete at a high level. The key factor in my view is that whenever the candidates talked about Obama’s record, Romney clobbered the president. No surprise there: Obama’s record is terrible, and the only question is whether it is front and center. Tonight it was, often enough.

Near the end there was a Benghazi question. This should have been a gimme for Romney, but he muffed it to some degree. Obama weighed in with a deeply misleading, if not flatly false, account of his administration’s response, and Candy Crowley helped him out–the only time tonight when I thought she was consciously trying to burnish her Democratic Party credentials. You can read Obama’s Rose Garden comments here and draw your own conclusions. Unfortunately, the discussion didn’t proceed further, so that Susan Rice’s false statements, for example, would be front and center. But that was a rear guard action by Obama and Crowley. Any time voters are focused on Libya, it is a bad thing for the administration. And Romney did an excellent job of tying Benghazi to the overall failure of Obama’s policies in the region.

So Obama did nothing tonight that would stop the bleeding. Unless you are Rip van Winkle, you know that the Obama administration’s policies have failed. Romney did a good job tonight of driving those statistics home. He also effectively distinguished himself from the Bush administration, which may seem like a silly issue to our readers, but is probably a live question for many undecided voters.

So: I call the debate a win on points for Romney, but if someone wants to argue that it was a draw, fine. A draw won’t get Obama re-elected.

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