And so campaign 2012 has produced a big one for the history books: an apparent race-transforming, 90-minute debate that saw Republican nominee Mitt Romney successfully and abruptly plunge towards the center — and President Barack plunge south.
Obama’s political thud was so loud it sounded like Chris Christie belly-flopping in a swimming pool.
What happened so suddenly to seemingly change the political conventional wisdom in the race? Both candidates reverted in a debate voters decided 70-20 percent was won by Romney, the most decisive Presidential debate win in Gallup’s polling history.
In tone, at least, Romney reverted to Moderate Mitt, who was Governor of Massachusetts. According to The Politico, he abruptly switched course after Romney family members intervened and convinced him to ignore his political handlers. He also reverted to the Romney who stunned rival Newt Gingrich into moments of no response in a debate last January. Gingrich later explained: “I wanted to fact-check. I wanted to make sure he was totally dishonest as I thought he was.”
Obama reverted to the worst incarnations of Obama: the Obama who often did poorly in debates against Hillary Clinton, the so-called “Professorial Obama” — a description slandering lively and energetic professors everywhere. Obama let down his donors, his supporters and all of those who felt the Obama brand brought back memories of FDR and JFK. No more.
Aghast Obama champion Andrew Sullivan, wrote in The Daily Beast: “[I’ve never seen a candidate this late in the game, so far ahead, just throw in the towel in the way Obama did last week – throw away almost every single advantage he had with voters and manage to enable his opponent to seem as if he cares about the middle class as much as Obama does. How do you erase that imprinted first image from public consciousness: a president incapable of making a single argument or even a halfway decent closing statement?”
Sullivan echoed the view of some others in writing “when a president self-immolates on live TV, and his opponent shines with lies and smiles, and a record number of people watch, it’s hard to see how a president and his party recover. “
The answer is: they can’t entirely.
While Romney has shown that a candidate can (repeatedly) use an Etch-a-Sketch, no candidate successfully uses a time machine. Before the debate, many thoughtful and serious analysts such as CNN’s David Gergen suggested Obama could politically finish Romney off in Denver. Others all but declared it official that the Democrats would easily keep the Senate and maybe even retake the House.
Those voices have diminished now.
Each day the news has stories of Obama poll erosion and GOP momentum. Obama’s debate performance appears to have damaged safety-net polling numbers with women. A Pew Research Center poll shows Romney wiped out Obama’s double-digit lead among women and is now even with Obama. Public Policy Polling finds Romney sliced Obama’s lead among women from 15 points to 6 points.
I’ve long contended that Barack Obama’s political team was not as much of an A team as JFK’s, LBJ’s or Bill Clinton’s. And you have to wonder: were they listening and reading? Why weren’t they and Obama prepared? Team Romney made its view clear on an “Etch-a-Sketch” reset long ago. The book “The Real Romney” notes Romney’s breathtakingly abrupt shift from moderate Governor once he decided to run for President.
During the 2008 and 2012 Presidential primary seasons Americans watched Mitt Romney trying hard to woo conservatives and insist he was one of them. No hoop was too large, small, or grungy for him to jump through, but experts always noted he would have to try to move to the center.
Time’s Mark Halperin wrote that Team Obama now has a problem: the Romney in Denver was the real Romney. That probably makes members of the Republican establishment breathe a sigh of relief.
The question now becomes: was the Obama in Denver the real Obama? If so, Republicans can again breathe a sigh of relief.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at email@example.com and can be booked to speak at your event at www.mavenproductions.com.