Winner: To Be Determined.
Despite the obvious temptation to judge the debate like a boxing match and declare a winner immediately, it’s still too early to tell who actually won.
Mitt Romney scored a clear victory in terms of style — he spoke forcefully into the camera, delivered all of his favorite talking points, and managed to get away with several big lies by running roughshod over moderator Jim Lehrer. The subjects that present the most political danger for Romney — immigration, gun control, women’s health, and his “47 percent” remarks — were never mentioned by either Lehrer or Obama.
Whether Romney’s performance will have a tangible impact on the race remains to be seen, however. The debate featured few (if any) memorable moments, and — with the exception of some policy shifts from Romney, which cannot be taken at face value at this point — gave us very little new information about the candidates. That favors the man in the lead, President Obama.
To put it another way: The fundamental state of the race — Obama holding a narrow but consistent lead — has not changed in over a year, through countless speeches, positive and negative jobs reports, natural disasters, diplomatic crises, and two political conventions. Is this bland debate going to fundamentally change that? Until we know the answer, it’s premature to declare a winner.
Loser: Jim Lehrer
Lehrer was completely unable to control the debate, letting the candidates talk over him, ignore his attempts to direct the conversation or enforce the loose time limits, and do everything but openly mock his authority as a moderator. Romney especially steamrolled Lehrer, prompting Obama for America Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter to quip: “I don’t think we need a moderator at the next debate… we have Mitt Romney.”
Maybe having an 80 year-old man presiding over a debate with few to no guidelines wasn’t the greatest idea.
Best Dodge: Romney On Simpson-Bowles
When Lehrer asked Romney if he supported the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan, Romney essentially answered “no, but I blame Obama for not supporting it anyway.”
“I have my own plan,” Romney told Lehrer, but “the president should have grabbed” Simpson-Bowles anyway and fought for it in Congress.
Crucially, Romney was able avoid mentioning that his own running mate, Paul Ryan, was instrumental in killing the plan in its infancy (and preventing Obama from “grabbing” it).
Best Answer From Romney: On Oil Subsidies
When President Obama criticized the $4 billion in subsidies received by oil companies every year, Romney fired back with his strongest answer of the night, countering the president’s point by noting that the Obama administration has put $90 billion into subsidizing green jobs, and that half of the recipient companies failed.
Although Romney’s response was largely false — it’s not true that half of the recipients have failed, he was wrong about the amount subsidizing Big Oil, and Romney himself actually supports much of the green jobs spending (most notably the money that goes towards “clean coal”) — it was nevertheless a strong moment in terms of style. By mentioning specifics, which he is generally loath to do, Romney presented himself as the competent business veteran that his campaign has been unsuccessfully promoting for years.
Best Answer From Obama: On Dodd-Frank
President Obama’s strongest moment came in response to a Romney promise to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. After Romney referred to the law as “the biggest kiss that’s been given to New York banks I’ve ever seen” — something that may not sit well with his top donors — Obama shot back: “Does anybody out there think that the big problem we had is that there was too much oversight and regulation of Wall Street? Because if you do, then Governor Romney is your candidate. But that’s not what I believe.”
Moment That Made Nancy Pelosi The Angriest: Obama On Social Security
When Lehrer asked President Obama whether he sees a major difference between himself and Romney on Social Security, Obama replied “You know, I suspect that, on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position.”
This was beyond puzzling, considering that Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan has explicitly vowed to privatize Social Security, which he considers to be a “collectivist” “welfare-transfer system.”
Biggest Lie: Romney’s New Tax Plan
Throughout the debate, Romney went though his standard litany of big lies — that President Obama is raiding $716 billion from Medicare, that President Obama is raising taxes on small businesses, and that tax cuts to the wealthy will stimulate job growth, among many others — but the most egregious was his repeated assertion that he will not cut taxes on the wealthy.
Romney promised to “take a different path — not the one we’ve been on, not the one the president describes as a top-down, cut taxes for the rich. That’s not what I’m going to do.”
Based on every reliable report on Romney’s tax plan, that statement is flagrantly false. As the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center simply put it:
Our major conclusion is that a revenue-neutral individual income tax change that incorporates
the features Governor Romney has proposed – including reducing marginal tax rates
substantially, eliminating the individual alternative minimum tax (AMT) and maintaining all tax
breaks for saving and investment – would provide large tax cuts to high-income households, and
increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers.
Indeed, if Romney actually does not plan to cut taxes on the wealthy, it will surely come as a major shock to the top donors to his campaign.
Photo credit: AP/Charlie Neibergall