Last night the first Presidential debate of the 2012 election campaign was held in Denver, Colorado. The debate was moderated by Jim Lehrer, of PBS's Jim Lehrer's Newshour. It was more free-flowing than debates in the past, and the questions were more topics of discussion rather than being specific and pointed. I thought Mr. Lehrer did an admirable job and showed no bias, letting each man exceed his time limits several times. President Obama and Governor Romney were both well prepared and there were no major stumbles or gaffs. That being said, I thought Mitt Romney was the clear winner.
Going into the debate I thought it was the President's job to convince people that his policies were the correct ones for the country , and subsequently he deserved re-election. Mr. Romney's job, on the other hand, was to show that the Obama policies were the wrong ones and that the country should make a change by electing him as the next President. I felt that taken in total, Mitt Romney was more successful than the President at fulfilling his mission.
The debate topics covered taxes, health care, the deficit and the role of the federal government. I thought in each category, Mitt Romney made a strong case for the conservative policies he champions and, by contrast, President Obama did not effectively defend his record on any of the categories. Mitt Romney, I thought, succeeded in accurately characterizing the economic malaise in which we currently find ourselves, and tying it to the Obama policies of the last four years. I thought Governor Romney's weakest area was on health care, but even there he scored points by firmly stating his intent to repeal Obamacare. Recent polling shows that well over 60% of the American people support repeal, and I think it is a winning issue for Mr. Romney.
President Obama's strategy seemed to be his typical modus operandi, misstate Mitt Romney's position and then argue against the misstated position. The most glaring example of this strategy was his insistence that Governor Romney wanted 5 trillion dollars in tax cuts. Even after Mr. Romney corrected the President several times, the President continued to misrepresent Mitt Romney's position. But I think Mitt Romney was effective in fending off these obvious attempts by the President to switch the focus to anything other than his failed policies.
I thought it was interesting that during the closing statements, President Obama slipped and said that each person should get their fair share and quickly corrected himself and said everyone should do his fair share. A slip, that I think, represents his redistributive inclinations. I don't know how much impact this debate will ultimately have on the election outcome next month. But one thing is clear, I believe it helped Mitt Romney more than it did the President. I can't imagine the President's performance switched any Romney people or convinced the fence-sitters to vote for him. I do think that it is more possible that the opposite is true for Mitt Romney.