HONOLULU, October 3, 2012 — Republicans have good reason to be proud of Mitt Romney tonight. Though heavily derided throughout his campaign as a weak, flip-flopping conservative likely to flounder in the storm of a debate against President Obama, the Republican nominee delivered a solid, confident and dashing performance in tonight’s debate reminiscent of the days of Ronald Reagan.
Tonight’s first debate covered domestic fiscal policy, economics and public administration. Sharp contrasts, both in delivery bearing and ideas of the right and proper role of government were clearly defined.
President Obama – once the energetic, youthful and unstoppable Democrat of 2008 – was a different candidate tonight, looking tired, hesitant, easily agitated and on the defensive against both Romney and the moderator, Jim Lehrer. Romney, however, was in a rare form, maintaining a steady smile and not easily moved by his opponent.
Predictably, Obama had to defend the actions of his administration while Romney benefited from the challenger’s advantage of being an outsider looking in. Obama continued in his tendency to use the word “investment” to describe compulsory use of taxpayer dollars while Romney took a strict line and called for cuts in spending and brought the president back to 2007 when candidate Obama promised not to raise taxes in a recession.
Obama’s redirects were at best sluggish, slow and at times his tendency to look down to refer to his podium notes for protracted periods of time gave the impression that he was on the defensive, if not unable to keep up with Romney’s tempo.
Romney reminded the president that he has been in office for four years, and he has had more than enough time to implement all of the optimistic proposals and platitudes that he continues to offer the American people. So far the results of this administration have been tepid at best.
Obama attempted to use an older talking point about wealthy individuals and use of corporate jets to deploy a class warfare justification for higher taxes. Romney deflected the argument by emphasizing that raising taxes never works because it only kills jobs; tax revenue never keeps up with the rate of increasing inflation or government spending.
While I would have immediately followed up on Obama’s statement by saying, “Mr. President, as a man who rides on the taxpayer funded Air Force One you have no right to judge private individuals using corporate jets,” Romney eventually said later in the debate “Mr. President, you’re entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts,” giving a follow-up closure, albeit out of context and somewhat delayed for those without a long memory.
Towards the end of the debate, Obama became more attentive, less hesitant in his responses and more feisty, but he had already lost the tactical initiative and debate momentum to Romney. While some of Romney’s more moderate to centrist answers on select positions – especially “free market regulation” and military – probably made libertarian and purist fiscal conservatives squeal with outrage, we should not be unnecessarily harsh on the Republican nominee: He performed with stellar panache overall and dominated a debate many said he would lose.
Ronald Reagan – who himself was said to be Teflon coated and a man who disarmed with smile, tact and confidence – would be proud of Mitt Romney’s performance tonight. There is certainly room for improvement, but Republicans can take a victory lap with this first debate.
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