The President was certainly back last night, and I hope, but am not sure, that it was enough.
Mitt helped the Prez by not seeming presidential himself. He seemed more like a very rich, entitled, spoiled, impatient, looking-down-on-us peons CEO. Appearing like a guy used to being in charge and getting your way doesn’t necessarily translate into looking like a commander in chief. Mitt reminded me more of Donald Trump than Thomas Jefferson.
The President was extremely well-prepared, crisp and fluent without being professorial, engaging and engaged. He consistently did well, as when he called out Mitt on his past rejection of coal plants; when he explained that oil companies were sitting on their leases on public lands waiting for prices to rise; when he twice called out Mitt for his own low tax rate and called his tax plan “sketchy,” inevitably making us think of Mitt himself as “sketchy” and untrustworthy; when he explained that gas prices were so low when he took office because the economy was crashing and demand for oil was low. The President really had an answer for everything.
The President called Mitt a liar, as on the auto bailout, without hurting himself. By contrast, Mitt came across as rude to the President.
The President was effective going after Mitt both personally and on policy because Mitt helped him. Obama sought to portray Mitt as an out-of-touch rich guy, and Mitt helped him by playing that role well. The shoe definitely fit. Obama sought to portray Mitt as not having any answers other than tax cuts for the rich, and Mitt helped him by being vague and not explaining how he would create jobs, just claiming that he knew how.
The coup de grace obviously was the President’s 47% attack at the very end, which was powerful and effective. He contrasted “debate Mitt” with Mitt “behind closed doors,” who has contempt for people on Social Security and veterans and active-duty service men and women and students. There is no explaining away the 47% video. When Mitt said he cared about 100% of us last night, his voice lacked the passion and conviction it had when he was dissing almost half of us in Boca Raton. He gives himself away.
To me, Mitt was at his lowest when he claimed that Obama’s description of Mitt’s tax plan was “foreign.” It was a bizarre word to use when you mean inaccurate, and it was intended to convey that Obama himself is “foreign.” We’re back to Kenyan Muslim Socialist, we’re in birther, World Net Daily territory, which is beyond the pale of a presidential debate and beneath the dignity of a presidential candidate. But Mitt really has no dignity, just ambition.
This debate would mean more if the first one hadn’t gone so badly for Obama, if he had been building on a strong first showing. Mitt wasn’t as bad in this debate as Obama was in the first, he wasn’t a disaster. I’m not sure he stumbled as much as Obama needed him to. He certainly came across as more unlikable this time because things weren’t going his way, and he was facing a very different opponent. It was easy for Mitt to be pleasant in the first debate when the President was doing so poorly.
The President wasn’t on a level field with Mitt last night, he was in a hole. But he definitely put down his shovel and hopped on his ladder. He has three weeks to keep climbing.