There is a great deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth among Obama supporters this morning because in their view, their man didn't do well in last night's debate. But President Obama didn't do poorly, he was just Obama. The left still projects its ideals of what a leader and a good candidate should be onto Obama, even though he has proved to be deficient as a president in both style and substance. Obama has been overrated for a long time. He was pitch-perfect in 2008 because of the times, but now he has a record to defend, explaining to do and a certain level of performance that is required. Last night, he wasn't up to the challenge.
What did Obama supporters expect? There is no defense for Obama's performance in office. And his whole campaign has been about distraction, which he can't artfully talk about face-to-face with Romney.
Andrew Sullivan, like my colleague Carter Eskew, is an intellectually honest and detached political observer. His analysis, along with that of Carter's, couldn't be more crystal clear. Sullivan, live-blogging the debate, said, “Obama is missing energy. optimism, passion.” He also noted that the debate was “a disaster for the president for the key people he needs to reach, and his effete, wonkish lectures may have jolted a lot of independents into giving Romney a second look.“
The Obama campaign must be reeling. Obama doesn't admit mistakes, so there will be someone internally who will receive the blame for the president's poor performance. Also, I assume that externally, the left and the campaign will attack the debate itself — and the moderator — although that will be difficult, as Obama talked for four minutes longer than Romney did.
Dan Balz of The Post, writing on the debate immediately after its conclusion, said, “The debate was generally civil and proved to be one of the most substantive and detailed in recent memory.” Balz's unbiased analysis stands in stark contrast with that of the New York Times, which has already started in its effort to belittle the entire affair, calling the debate an “unenlightening recitation of tired talking points and mendacity.”
So what will Obama and his allies do now? There will be a huge appetite by the Obama campaign and the left to change the subject. Romney and Paul Ryan must be very sure-footed on the stump and very careful in the interviews they give. Any miscue or small gaffe will give the Obama forces what they need to open a new line of attack on Romney. If Romney and Ryan are focused and poised for the next few days, then the effects of last night's debate will be even more significant for Campaign 2012.
However, in campaigns, nothing is ever as good or as bad as it appears. The media tend to slosh from one extreme to the other. So Romney hasn't become a giant overnight, and Obama hasn't blown it. The fundamental change produced by last night's debate wasn't a change at all. The real Romney, who is informed, cheerful and well-prepared, finally got his chance for a one-on-one contrast with the dour, smug, overly self-confident, one-dimensional performer that is Obama. The race is very fluid and will likely remain that way until the very end.
The reality that the Obama campaign is waking up to this morning is that the next few days will probably be the most difficult to date in the president's charmed career.