The Morning After

This photo pretty much says it all: Barack and Michelle Obama looking lost and forlorn, while a smiling, confident Mitt Romney collects his notes from the podium:

The verdict on last night’s debate is unanimous. You can go to Drudge for a collection of reactions. The New York Post headlines, “Mitt Mauls O:”

The Daily Mail headlines: “The new Jimmy Carter? Obama slammed by media as even his own supporters trash debate performance after Romney’s crushing win.” Per Drudge, Michael Moore comments, “This is what happens when u pick John Kerry as your debate coach.” Dennis Miller: “Obama better hope a kicked a** is covered under Obamacare.”

So where do we go from here? My guess is that we will see a slight uptick in the polls for Romney, but don’t expect anything dramatic. It takes time and reinforcement for people’s perceptions to change. Last night was the beginning of a process, not the end.

The remaining debates will be important; more important, I think, than if the first one had not been such a blowout. The pressure will be on Obama to do better next time, and liberal moderators will do all they can to help him. (One reason last night’s debate was so one-sided was that, with the exception of one or two rather feeble efforts to lend Obama a hand, Jim Lehrer stayed out of the way.)

So will Obama perform better in the remaining debates? He almost has to; unless he vomits on the stage like Justin Bieber, he won’t do worse. But as last night’s debate revealed, Obama has two intractable problems. The first is that Mitt Romney is much smarter, much more knowledgeable, and much more experienced than Obama. That isn’t going to change, and it is going to be apparent any time the two men are on the stage together; it can only be a matter of degree.

The second problem is even more fundamental: as someone said this morning (if I could remember who, I would link), Obama didn’t just have a bad night, he’s had a bad four years. Last night was virtually the first time he has had to talk about his record–or, at least, stand on the stage and listen to someone else talk about it. The facts are grim, and no amount of preparation before the next debate, or spin after it, will make them go away. So last night began a process of evaluation that I hope and believe will culminate in a Romney victory on November 6.

UPDATE: Scott reminds me that the “four bad years” comment originated with Romney adviser Stuart Stevens.