Mitt Romney needed a grand slam home run to get back into the president race, and he pulled it off Wednesday night.
The polls have not been going his way, especially in pivotal states for electoral votes. With only a month left in the campaign, the first debate was do or die for him. It will be most interesting to see what kind of bounce he will get in the polls in the next few days. There will be an upward bounce; the question is how much.
He will also get a bounce in fund raising from his virtuoso performance against a president who looked like he would have rather been in Philadelphia.
Overall, it was a first class debate, even if moderator Jim Lehrer threw out nothing but softball questions. The contrast between the two men couldn’t have been more clear: on philosophy of governing, on demeanor and on depth of knowledge of economic subjects.
Obama was all over the place with his points; Romney brought every piece of his presentation back to jobs, jobs, jobs. The president was more rhetorical, using themes that have worked well on the stump. But stump speeches face no rebuttal. Romney was disciplined and focused with his points and strategy.
When Romney pounded away on Obamacare’s $716 billion in cuts over ten years to Medicare, the president literally had no response. Those cuts will probably never happen — Congress will back off in the face or pressure from seniors. The honest answer from the president would have been that he needed that sum to make the fiscal argument for Obamacare as he rammed it through Congress. It was always funny money.
As Romney pointed out, such unilateral cuts would result in fewer doctors and hospitals providing service to seniors on Medicare. That has already happened, especially in dentistry.
It is also true that the Ryan budget carried the same level of Medicare cuts, and the president missed that legitimate rejoinder.
There are many ways to cut costs in health care. The private sector is racing ahead with real reforms. None of those sweeping changes made it into the presidential debate, beyond Romney’s expression of faith in the private sector to do so. The cost issue is THE ISSUE in health care, and neither laid a glove on it.
On demeanor, Romney was eager for the fight. The president looked peeved that his views were being challenged. Two-thirds of the way through the hour and a half encounter, he looked like a football team that is down by four TDs in the fourth quarter.
Lehrer was looking for contrast, and he got it. The president essentially attacked his challenger for “trickle-down economics.” Though he didn’t use that phrase, he pushed his fairness theme by castigating Romney’s across-the-board proposals for tax cuts, which means tax cuts for the one percenters along with well the other 52% who pay taxes. (You can’t give cuts to the notorious 47% that pay no federal income tax.)
Romney went after Obama’s belief in big government, using the phrase “trickle-down government” several times.
If you’re looking for board denominators on the two campaigns and the two men, the president will put his faith and dollars in government programs to provide fairness and opportunity, and Romney will rely on the private sector as his main foundation for renewed growth and a return to fiscal health.
Their differences will become more pronounced in the next two debates. Look for the president to be a lot more aggressive in Round Two. The pleasantries that accented Debate One won’t be there on Oct. 16 when they face each other again in Hempstead, N.Y.