For the past couple of weeks, the Obama campaign has sought to downplay expectations for the President's debate performance - not because they really expected him to lose, but because they thought it would aid the president in delivering wounds to Romney in the first face-to-face battle.
Even the president's crowds didn't believe it. When he asked who would score the most points, they would shout, "YOU WILL!" even when Obama was trying to convince them of what a "good debater" Romney was and that he was just "okay."
Well Wednesday night President Obama failed to live up to being "okay." He looked shocked to have his record challenged. He was annoyed, tired, small ("I had 5 seconds before you interrupted me!" - and that to Jim Lehrer!).
For the first time, Obama had an opponent that would go toe-to-toe and was unhindered in challenging him. Prior to this, Obama had led a charmed political life. When running for state office he got ALL of his opponents off the ballot due to a technicality. His Republican opponent for U.S. Senate self-imploded in a tawdry sex scandal. His next opponent, Alan Keyes, imploded on impact. Obama then faced Hillary, who didn't take him seriously until it was too late. She found out that being critical of Obama was a dangerous thing for a base she needed. Also, to do so could get her labeled "racist." Then came McCain, whose tough, heroic life made him seem older than he is. McCain was constrained by his sense of honor and civility. Then the financial crisis hit and he suspended his campaign, I think he actually thought Obama might do the same. Instead Obama made him look like a man trying to figure out what to do. And the rest is history.
Meanwhile, when the president has made a mistake or gaffe, the press has been there to provide cover- sometimes in the form of no coverage. Rev. Wright? Irrelevant! 57 states? Could happen to anyone! No security for our Ambassador in Libya on the anniversary of 9-11? Mitt Romney is a gaffe machine! And on and on it goes.
But tonight, Obama only had himself and Romney had a chance to speak directly to the American people, and directly to the president - and he made the most of it.
From the beginning, Romney set the perfect tone. He made a joke. Americans love to laugh and Romney showed some of the personal charm those who know him rave about. Then he cut into the president's record and rhetoric with relentless persistence - often with a smile, always with respect. He was a happy warrior. An articulate fighter for the conservative cause the GOP has not had since Reagan. From "trickle down government" to "I've been in business for 25 years, and I have no idea what you are talking about!" to effective challenges of the president's job record and spending plans, Romney showed a passion and ability he's never displayed on the national scale before. (It also exposed the lie about "gaffe-prone" Mitt the left-leaning press has been eager to foster.)
Even Obama supporters had to have been shocked. While the president stood on stage and asserted he never claimed to be more than a man, they had to remember that he had promised receding oceans and planetary healing. When he claimed to be "just a man" who would "fight for them every single day" what had once seemed the promise of superman, now seemed the tired line of an actor who is tired of the play they are in. Obama was exposed as the celebrity with no clothes.
The left enjoys mocking Romney's name by calling him "Mittens." Wednesday night they learned that those "mittens" can double as boxing gloves.
Romney wins the night with a TKO.
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