You only needed to look at the faces of MSNBC’s pundits or Democratic officials in the spin room to know what everyone professionally involved in politics believes — Mitt Romney won big in this first debate. We’ll see how the public digests it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the polls draw close in the next week and that thereafter this race — as was always likely — goes down to the wire.
I’ll let others assess in detail Romney’s assertive presence and demeanor, and the obvious toll it took on the president, who, in split screen shots when he wasn’t speaking, often looked irked or working a bit to suppress frustration or anger.
A senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the host of the new podcast “This...Is Interesting,” Miller writes a weekly column for The Post.
Mitt Romney opens a door for the “47 percent”.
What interests me most is Mitt’s audacity. Wednesday night at long last came the full-throated return of the Rockefeller Republican many suspect is Romney’s true political nature, if indeed he has one. With one fatal exception I’ll note in a moment, on taxes, health care, education, regulation and more, Romney came across as deeply informed, experienced and reasonable, and as a powerful and articulate critic of the economy’s weaknesses on Obama’s watch.
Romney’s macro theory of the race has always been that in a time of high unemployment and economic anxiety, being a credible alternative would suffice. Until tonight, the polls suggested that strategy was falling short. Now, it looks much more plausible, especially when combined with the iron political law that every presidential campaign eventually obeys: Do what you have to do to get the nomination, and then appeal to the center once its locked up. I expected Mitt to turn to the middle right after he became the de facto nominee, or at least at the convention, and not wait until now. If he wins, of course, Romney and his advisers will be hailed as geniuses for their timing, for bonding the party faithful to the ticket with the choice of Paul Ryan and a conservative-themed convention, and then dashing to the center for the home stretch.
Look at what we saw Wednesday night. Mitt Romney believes that of course we need regulation to make markets work, and that banks need higher capital standards to protect taxpayers from having to bail out their bad bets — yet he also laid out some convincing ideas about Dodd-Frank’s unintended consequences and shortcomings. He’d mend banking regulation, not end it. His air of reasonableness made Obama’s retort that Romney wanted to let Wall Street run wild feel off key. This tone and positioning was emblematic of Romney’s performance across a number of issues.
Health care has always required enormous audacity from Romney. While his attempt to distinguish his Massachusetts plan from Obamacare wasn’t persuasive to someone like me, who has studied the details for years, I think it would have appeared perfectly reasonable to less wonky voters. I won’t rehearse them all here, but Romney previewed his staccato talking points on this matter in the Republican primary debates, and I wrote then that (to my astonishment) he was on his way to a politically sufficient position. That Romney can not only pull this off but also go on offense while doing it (when in fact Romneycare is basically the same as Obamacare) takes remarkable dexterity.