The Romney comeback began officially tonight. He didn’t just hold the own with his president tonight; he repeatedly schooled the president on jobs, taxes, energy, health care and the deficit. Tonight, Romney erased doubts about his competence and sense of fairness; his performance will transform his standing in the race from a position of weakness and decline to strength and ascendance. Repeatedly, Romney was thematic in his criticisms and his vision; often Obama was left wandering in the weeds.
From the opening question, Romney took command. He deftly managed to make a strong, coherent critique of the president’s economic record in a calm, factual tone. He also repeatedly and effectively disputed Obama’s central critique about his tax plan, denying repeatedly that he will lower taxes on the wealthy or add to the deficit. The fact-checkers will have a field day with this, but Romney sounded credible and Obama failed to dent his confident assertions.
Dodd-Frank made an interesting appearance in the debate tonight; once again, Romney sounded intelligent and nuanced, cleverly going after the “big banks”, and tacking to the left of Obama on regulation. Obama was left flatfooted. On health care, Romney gave a strong answer on his Massachusetts health care plan, saying that his plan, unlike Obama’s, had bi-partisan support and asking why Obama had obsessed for two years on ramming his plan through to the exclusion of focusing on the economy. This was just one of several examples where Romney seized the high ground on bi-partisanship. On his health care law, Obama was left babbling about details of cost containment, which Romney deftly countered by saying these innovations were taking place in the private sector. Also, Romney kept attacking Obama for cutting Medicare by $716 billion, and Obama didn’t counter it once.
On the role of government question, Romney took the question to a higher level, talking about the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and then zeroing in on a searing critique of how Obama has failed to maintain the national welfare.
At the beginning of the debate, Obama made an odd comment about tonight being his anniversary and promising Michelle that they will spend their next one in very different circumstances. Another performance like this one, and they might be in very different circumstances indeed.