There seems to be no credible argument that Mitt Romney did not
win the first presidential debate decisively. Even most Democrats
seem to concede this.
The presidential debates are more important than usual this cycle
because the Republican challenger has not been well known
throughout the country, and until now, the nation’s voters had not
seen the two candidates side by side, temperament to temperament.
Since the first TV debate, between John Kennedy and Richard
Nixon in 1960, the nation has not seen a confrontation between the
two major party nominees to be so one-sided. At a point when the
Romney campaign seemed to be stalled, with only five weeks to
election day, the first debate victory by their nominee was a major
infusion of energy and confidence into their 2012 efforts.
As I pointed out before the debate, the American voter had not ever
seen the two candidates facing each other, and that it would be a vital
moment when they did. No one (except for Governor Chris Christie
perhaps) saw Mr. Romney’s overwhelming triumph coming. Yes,
many saw a Romney win, but nothing so decisive.
Before the debate, the national polls were already tightening,
showing Mr. Romney virtually tied with Mr, Obama. Most of these
polls, I and many other observers have noted, were already
erroneously weighted in Mr. Obama’s favor. Now we can expect
Mr. Romney’s poll numbers to improve (by exactly how much I
don’t know), and probably to regain the lead he at times held earlier.
Most of all, Mr. Romney’s performance has energized his campaign
team, Republican and conservative voters, as well as independent
voters, a group he has consistently led, even more to his side.
Momentum, a key element at the end of a presidential campaign,
now shifts to Mr. Romney for the time being. There is only
a month to go, and not much room for many more of these
Yet my headline above has a “but.” That “but” is the understanding
that the Obama campaign is not going to simply surrender the power
they have without a fight.
There are two more debates. Walter Mondale was generally judged
to be the winner his first debate with President Reagan in 1984 when
the incumbent seemed suddenly old and confused in their initial
confrontation. But history shows that Mr, Reagan came back in their
next debate, including the now legendary riposte that he would not
use “Mr. Mondale’s youth” against him. Of course, Barack Obama is
no Ronald Reagan, but it can be known as certain that Team Obama
will be intensely planning for a comeback at the next debate.
In addition, we have already seen how Team Obama relishes playing
“hardball” in this campaign, including the sudden appearance of an
old and private video that brought the “47%” remark into the campaign.
As election day approaches, and their candidate begins to trail in the
polls, do not think for a nano-moment that Team Obama will not try to
inject sensational items into the contest in the hope of derailing Mr.
Romney. We only have to go back to 2000 when, with George W,
Bush leading Al Gore in the polls in the final week, that Mr. Bush’s
very old DWI incident was brought up.
Nor can we forget, in a world so on edge with revolutionary change
and economic distress, that international events and crises have
repeatedly intruded on U.S. presidential campaigns. What might yet
happen in the volatile Middle East before election day? The
Venezuelan presidential election soon to take place, and virulently
anti-American incumbent Hugo Chavez is facing a serious opponent.
U.S. South and Central American policy has been in a shambles of
late. What might an unsettled election in Venezuela cause in that part
of the world, a region so geographically close to the U.S.? The chronic
economic crisis in Europe has seen another wave of fiscal and
political unease across that continent. Russia, under a re-elected
President Putin, is increasingly confrontational and aggressive.
China and Japan have suddenly seen a re-ignition of their historic
enmity over territorial disputes.
Mr. Romney, as a successful businessman and manager, was able to
dominate his debate with Mr. Obama on domestic economic issues,
but how will he do in the debate ahead that is supposed to be about
This election, I argued strenuously when Mr. Romney was supposed to
be behind in the polls, was not over. Now that Mr. Romney has had a
major triumph, and is likely to have gained momentum, I suggest that
no one should consider this election won yet by Mr. Romney. Time is
running out on this contest, the number of undecided voters is dwindling,
and the ability to inject new controversies into the campaign is
shrinking, but a month is sufficient to change a final outcome, especially
if the race, at least in the all-important electoral college, is close.
As the first Republican president once wrote to one of his generals
during the Civil War, this is a time for “sleepless vigilance” if there is
to be a final victory.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.