Barack Obama as the Comeback Kid: how a strong performance halted Mitt Romney's momentum

After the disaster of his performance in the first debate, the President was much more aggressive and effective. But why is he so under-using George W Bush?


A fortnight ago, Mitt Romney one the first presidential debate by a much bigger margin than expected. Last night, Barack Obama won the second debate by a much bigger margin than expected. But because that first presidential debate was an outlier, and polls swung so decisively against Obama immediately afterwards, the president still has some major catching up to do. That’s a weird position for a favourite to be in. But this is a weird election.

Overall, Obama defeated Romney on likeability (which increasingly seems to me to be the factor that could swing this election), policy substance, and foreign affairs. But Romney proved his calibre on economic issues with customary zeal, and the fact that Obama’s mention of the notorious 47 per cent remarks – saved right until the end so that Romney couldn’t respond – didn’t go down brilliantly with swing voters will be a blow to his campaign.

The biggest moment from last night was Romney’s lamentable failure over Libya. His campaign blatantly exploited the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens for selfish and personal political gain. Obama described this as “offensive”, and rightly so, though he owes moderator Candy Crowley a beer for her inappropriate corrective against Romney, telling him on the record that he was wrong about whether Obama described what happened as an act of terror.

Elsewhere, Romney was again impressive on the economy, if vague. He says that he will create twelve million jobs in four years – but how? And yet his zeal, panache and private equity polish when talking about job creation means this is a weak spot for the President and will remain so. As the snap polls show, Romney still scores more highly on the economy, tax and healthcare.

As Ross Douthat notes, however, he didn’t come across as the kind of guy you want to have a beer with. For Americans, this really matters (it got George W Bush elected twice, crazily). At two points last night, Romney rather laboriously argued with Crowley about the rules; and we are getting familiar now with his habit of seeking what Douthat calls an “alpha-male moment”, such as that absurd $10,000 bet with Rick Perry during the primaries.

My sense is that the Obama campaign’s tactic of going hard and early in its negative portrayal of Romney, suggesting he is an out-of-touch plutocrat long before the 47 per cent remarks, is likely to be vindicated. I’ve written before that this is a “jobs vs justice” election, with Romney saying he’ll create lots of jobs even if that means bankrupting companies – something he’s good at – and Obama saying that he is a champion of the middle-class.

Last night, with energy and compassion, Obama played to this theme. That he won, amid signs of mild improvement in the economy, suggests it is the right track for him. We won’t know to what extent until around a week from now, when polls show how swing voters are  feeling.

In the meantime, a word of advice for the president’s team. Their man still doesn’t have a persuasive answer to the question “Why will the second term be any different?” Therefore he should spend much, much more time talking about the last Republican administration. Voters think in longer cycles than political anoraks; and as Bill Clinton showed during the Democrat convention, Bush junior remains the best weapon Obama has. He was the candidate of Change once, and shouldn’t forget why, precisely because the American people haven’t.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam