Both Obama and Romney had good moments last night, and they just about cancelled each other out

There was no clear victory for either candidate last night. But there are always winners and losers in these debates, says The Washington Post's political reporter

Share

Neither candidate scored the clear victory Tuesday night that Mitt Romney racked up in the first presidential debate 13 days ago. But this is life. And in life, there are winners and losers:

WINNERS

President Obama: It was a near certainty that he would improve on his mystifyingly bad performance in Denver. And he did. But he did more than that. After coming out a little too hot — Obama was on the wrong side of the passionate/angry divide — the president moderated his tone to the sober yet forceful persona that he needed to project in this debate.

Debates are about moments, and Obama had three: his line about how his pension wasn't as big as Romney's; winning, against all odds, the scrap about the Benghazi attack (with an assist from moderator Candy Crowley); and his strong close in which he used Romney's "47 percent" comments as a cudgel.

Obama's performance wasn't flawless, and he didn't score a clean win as Romney did in the first debate. But he was the better performer this time around.

The questions: Town-hall formats tend to be hit or miss. When regular people get to ask the questions — unedited by that darn mainstream media — you either get blunt queries that force the candidates to think or banal generalities that don't. With a few notable exceptions — gas prices, gun control and why are you so misunderstood — the questions on Libya, whether we are better off than we were four years ago and how Romney differs from George W. Bush were pointed and interesting.

There weren't enough of them, but that was a function of the two candidates talking too much. And although Romney seemed to get the tougher questions, but complaining about the rules is a loser's game. (More on that below.)

Apple: iPad and iPhone both get mentions in the debate! As if Apple needs more free publicity!

Binders: Not since Trapper Keeper's heyday have binders been such a big part of the public dialogue.

LOSERS

Mitt Romney: The Republican nominee absolutely had his moments in this debate. He was excellent when laying out the case for why we are not better off than we were four years ago and why he has a better claim to a track record of success than the president does.

But as noted above, these debates are about moments. Romney thought he had one when it came to what Obama said on the day after the Libya attack. But while trying to catch the incumbent in what he thought was a clear mistake, Romney was hoisted on his own petard at Crowley in what will be the single most memorable (and replayed) interaction of the debate.

Yes, we are aware that there is considerable controversy already over whether what Crowley said regarding Obama's statement was accurate, but remember that the average viewer simply isn't going to read everything written about the subject to get to the bottom of it.

Most viewers are going to watch the debate and think: "Obama looked strong there." Allowing Obama to win — or come close to it — on what should have been his weak spot in the debate was a miss by Romney. And he was clearly jarred about how the Libya fight turned out; he didn't regain his footing for 10 minutes or so afterward.

Bickering about rules: These are the two men who are competing to be the leader of the free world. Do we really need to see them reduced to fighting over who gets to speak last or who is or isn't following the rules of the debate? Both men did it — although Romney did it a bit more — and it looked small and unseemly. Can we please ban this in the future?

Undecideds: Can you say with a straight face that there was anything in that debate — style or substance — that would convince an undecided voter to get off the fence? We can't. The argumentative tone from both candidates is the sort of stuff undecided and independent voters don't like a bit — and affirms for them why politics is broken.

Apple: Yes, the tech company got lots of free publicity, but Crowley noted that its products are made in China! Ouchy.

This article first appeared in The Washington Post

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A pack of seagulls squabble over discarded food left on the beach at St Ives on July 28, 2015  

Number of urban seagulls in Britain nearly quadruples: Hide food and avoid chicks to stay in gulls’ good books

Tom Bawden
 

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men