In stark contrast to a poor performance two weeks ago in his first debate with Mitt Romney, President Obama, by most accounts (including several QUICKIE POLLS), got the better of his Republican rival last night in a town-hall-type forum.
Greg Sargent of the Washington Post SUMS IT UP by asking and answering his own question:
Will Obama’s performance appeal to independents, swing, and undecided voters?
Yes, it will. The race will not be transformed in a fundamental way — it will still be a dead heat — but Obama accomplished something of a turnaround tonight. He took steps towards undoing the damaging dynamic Romney cemented during the last debate: One in which Romney had assumed the role of the energetic candidate of change, while relegating Obama to the role of listless, passive candidate of the unacceptable status quo — of the “new normal.”
Obama drew a clearer distinction on taxes than he did in the first debate, which was absolutely critical: He repeatedly stressed that he would only raises taxes on the rich, while preserving the Bush tax cuts for everyone else. Crucially, he pinpointed this as a main point of disagreement with Romney, and didn’t let Romney get away with arguing that his plan would not cut the wealthy’s taxes. (It would, of course.) Even more important, he tied this dispute to a larger argument over economic philosophy, arguing that tax cuts for the rich don’t grow the economy, while tax hikes on the rich will allow us to keep up the investments in the middle class that will lead to lasting economic security.
And this is where Obama accomplished something really important: He got himself out of the box he’d blundered into during the first debate. As Dem pollster Stan Greenberg put it, Obama last time came across as the candidate of the not-good-enough status quo, rather than laying out a substantive second term change agenda of his own. By stressing his economic plan more directly than last time, by arguing that more jobs will be created in his second term, and by placing a heavy emphasis on our need to invest in alternative energy sources, he reoriented his argument towards the future, and framed it in a way that will appeal to independents and undecided voters.
Obama clearly benefited from opportunities to exploit several subjects on which Romney is especially vulnerable — the 47-percent stuff, the negative legacy of George W. Bush, equal pay for women, offshoring of jobs, immigration and Mitt’s penchant for peddling falsehoods.
But perhaps the worst wound sustained by Romney was self-inflicted. It had to do with last month’s deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Steve Benen DESCRIBES the exchange:
As the moment unfolded live, it was obvious Romney thought he’d finally found a brutal new criticism. The Republican began by accusing the president on Sept. 12 of flying “to Las Vegas for a political fundraiser” — that wasn’t true; there was no such fundraiser — instead of addressing the attack. Obama responded, “The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror.”
Romney hadn’t done his homework, and didn’t realize that the president was telling the truth. He thought he’d tripped Obama up, but even moderator Candy Crowley felt compelled to fact-check Romney in real time: “He did call it an ‘act of terror.’”
The president added, “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?” The moment that Romney expected to be triumphant had backfired — and the crowd of undecided voters ended up applauding Obama.
“[T]he Romney camp laid the trap,” Josh Marshall noted. “And tonight Mitt walked right into it.”
Romney’s criticism of Benghazi on political grounds seemed to offend the president on a personal level…
Romney tried to exploit the deaths of Americans for partisan gain the night of Sept. 11, and then he tried to do it again in last night’s debate. The president, displaying more passion than we’re accustomed to seeing, was determined to make the Republican pay a price for this, and he did. Romney ended up looking small, with even less credibility on foreign policy than he did before.
The debate ended with this whithering monologue by Obama: