Romney’s debating skills were honed in the course of this year’s GOP Primary season, and he put that experience to good use on Wednesday. He was articulate, direct, detailed and energetic in his responses, most of which the incumbent was not. Moreover, Romney looked and sounded more presidential than did the actual president.
Obama for once didn’t cite his predecessor George W. Bush by name, but repeatedly lamented the “mess” he had inherited. And he accused Romney of wanting to “double down” on the policies that caused that “mess.” The fact is, though, that Obama’s policies have made that “mess” worse, not better, as Romney hammered home on Wednesday.
Obama claimed repeatedly that Romney’s plan to cut all tax rates by 20 percent would cost $5 trillion, help the wealthy and hurt the middle class. Romney refused to let the allegations go unchallenged.
“Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate,” he said at one point, adding at another, “Mr. President, you’re entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts.”
The incumbent often looked like he was not enjoying himself, much the same way that President George H.W. Bush seemed to be wishing he was somewhere else at times during the 1992 presidential debates. And at one point, rather than continue to try explaining his economic plans, Obama plaintively suggested to moderator Jim Lehrer that they move on to a different topic.
Obama on Wednesday paid a heavy price for having spent the past four years avoiding adversarial questions and holding press conferences only infrequently, and then only with the reverential White House press corps. He appeared unprepared and unenthusiastic about defending his record. Rusty, if you will, despite his intensive preparation for the debate. Obama’s “debate prep” stand-in for Romney was the wooden John Kerry. Obama learned the hard way that Romney is no Kerry clone. And Obama’s “soaring oratory” was nowhere to be found without his Tele-prompter.
For Romney, it was an overdue chance to present himself and his agenda to the public — and especially to the independents — in his own words. Till now, he has let himself be defined in large part by Obama’s caustic Chicago-style political ads and by the deep-in-the-tank pro-Obama mainstream media. But the public finally got a look at Mitt Romney, unfiltered, on Wednesday. And early indications are that it liked what it heard and saw — a lot.
Romney’s debate performance transformed the dynamics of the race. You can expect a more aggressive Obama to show up at their next debates. Yet we suspect that Romney will be more than equal to that Obama as well.