Okay, I'm glad I didn't write this last night because I've gone through at least three sets of reactions to the debate. I'm still not prepared to say definitively who "won", but I just have a series of thoughts.
My first thought, while I was watching, was a mix of recognizing that Obama was better on substance and Romney was better on style. Overall Romney had better control of the situation, and even the atmospherics were in his favor. For instance, I noticed a number of times that Obama was nodding his head while Romney was talking. Just a tic or pattern that many of us have while we're listening to somebody, but it still seemed almost like a submissive gesture of agreement.
Plus, there was one question where Romney seriously gave a better answer. It was the question about the role of the federal government. Don't bother going to look for the transcript: the substance doesn't matter. What matters was that Romney had a prepared statement that was arguably related to the question, pumped up some right-wing talking points, and tied it to the Constitution. Obama had nothing, and it was a softball for him.
One thing I know about the role of the federal government is that it is the government of all the people, not just those who are fortunate enough to have material success. I know that it includes doing for people what they can't do for themselves, protecting the environment, investing in the future of our young people, and protecting consumers and home purchasers from unregulated and unscrupulous businesses who would exploit them. The federal government must encompass and advance the vision of America that is faithful to the vision of our Founders, and also keeps faith with the generations since who have built America into the strongest, freest nation on earth. [and so on].
He could have said something like that, but he kind of rambled and lost that question.
Still, the other part of my immediate reaction was that there was more substance in Obama's answers than in Romney's. This was not, though, inconsistent with the idea that Romney may have won.
From there, my second reaction while watching one of the fact-check stories right after the debate, was to think that people will feel pretty stupid when they wake up the morning after and realize how much of what Romney said just wasn't true.
This was followed quickly by two counterreactions:
1. Who ever said the winner of a debate was determined by comparing the ratios of accurate and inaccurate factual claims of the two debaters? and
2. Okay, if Obama was right and all those claims by Romney were false, would it have been so bad to say so during the debate
For instance, Obama probably said five times that Romney's plan calls for five trillion dollars in tax cuts, and every time he said it Romney said that just wasn't true. Wouldn't it have been better if somewhere along the way, instead of repeating "five trillion dollars", Obama had said, "Look, the plan Romney has been touting for a year and a half calls for reinstating all of the Bush tax cuts, totally eliminating the estate tax, slashing the corporate income tax from 45% to 25% (or whatever the numbers are) and cutting individual tax rates across the board by 20%. That adds up to five trillion dollars and he won't even tell us one deduction he wants to get rid of to make up that five trillion dollar hole."
Of course, there could have been a strategy at work. The Obama people could have decided in advance that whenever Obama was responding to Romney's points he was talking about what Romney wanted to talk about, so they would stay away from that. Unfortunately, if that was there strategy I think it sucked.
Finally, I got some good news tonight. I saw the diary from the DailyKos staff discussing the first poll after the debate
, and apparently Obama actually did pretty well. Specifically, he didn't lose support overall and he gained a lot in favorability among independents.
Finally. For an electoral debate, gaining support is the actual measure of success. You probably know this already, but when Kennedy debated Nixon the people who listened to it on the radio thought Nixon had won, but the people who watched it on television thought Kennedy won it, and Kennedy's win is the story we remember.
We don't know what story we're going to remember yet. As a friend observed at lunch today, there are too many hands to know the final answer. On the other hand, I've said this before: I wish I saw some more fight in the guy