Mitt Romney Won the First Debate. But Why and How?

By Bob Cesca: Mitt Romney won the debate last night but only if you judge the “winner” of a debate as the most hyperkinetic, oftentimes aggressive and condescending participant who used his rehearsed delivery to spackle over his lies, mistakes, generalities and misleading statements.

Almost on cue, the cable news people along with, shockingly enough, some people who I otherwise admire and whose work I read every day, confused style for substance and leadership quality in the context of a debate — and they’ve completely and totally ignored the words Mitt Romney actually said. More on that presently.

In contrast to Mitt Romney’s used-car salesman approach in which he craps in your mouth but does so in a way that makes you thank him and shake his sweaty hand in the end, Barack Obama’s natural and authentic — underscore authentic — style might’ve seemed like he wasn’t as polished. Furthermore, many of my friends on the left lapsed back into this weird chronic amnesia in which they forget how Barack Obama carries himself, how he debates and who he is.

No, the president wasn’t as energetic as he could’ve been. Yes, he was far too kind and deferential to an opponent whose entire goal is to roll back every Obama administration achievement. There was zero chance that President Obama would appear in Denver last night and suddenly reveal himself to be a snappy, idealized Aaron Sorkin character. With a few exceptions, the Obama you watched last night was the same Obama we watched win all three debates against John McCain four years ago, say nothing of all of the various town halls, press conferences and Question Time forums he’s hosted. He’s thoughtful and deliberate and, yes, he sometimes stammers during pauses, but that’s no reflection on his leadership qualities or unrivaled intelligence. For the most part, this is how he’s always comported himself. The problem, however, was that it might’ve come off as too deliberate and thoughtful when contrasted against Romney’s caffeinated morning zoo deejay persona.

Chris Matthews and Ed Schultz urged the president last night to act like an aggressive cable news host. Since when has the president ever done that? Ever? Besides, most Americans — even some of us who cover politics for a living — hate cable news pundits and think they’re full of shitola. Chris Hayes noted on MSNBC last night (to the anger of Ed Schultz) that the Obama campaign is focused on the president’s stellar likeability and, it goes without saying, acting like Ed Schultz all of a sudden would’ve damaged that effort. Perhaps irrevocably.

All of that said, let’s talk about Romney’s performance in terms of what he said.

Romney — not the president — made the biggest mistake of the night and almost everyone missed it. The president, in a very effective run, highlighted not only “corporate welfare” for oil companies, and he actually used that phrase, but he also talked about how corporations receive tax breaks when they ship jobs overseas.

Romney’s response to this tax break accusation? “The second topic, which is you said you get a deduction for getting a plant overseas. Look, I’ve been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant.” In other words, Why didn’t I get that tax break when I shipped jobs overseas?

Right there, and on a televised presidential debate, Romney accidentally admitted to shipping jobs overseas — but claims to have never received such a tax break, obviously when he’s shipped jobs overseas with Bain Capital. In an alternative dimension of punditry that isn’t an superficial as ours, this might have been the headline today, especially given that American job creation was a central point of debate. Romney appeared on television last night and was tasked with describing how he would create jobs, he ended up copping to eliminating American jobs and sending those jobs to China and elsewhere. Romney needs to be pressed on this point. Over and over and over.

And immediately following that discussion, Romney went on to repeat the tired and universally debunked lie that Obamacare “cuts” $716 billion from Medicare.

He also insisted that his tax cuts, which are the centerpiece of his economic plan, wouldn’t cost $5 trillion. Of course they do. The Tax Policy Center agrees. This is the guy who fancies himself as the deficit hawk whose convention featured a real-time debt clock, and he’s on deck to add another $5 trillion to the deficit. He also said the cuts won’t result in tax hikes on the middle class. FactCheck.org wrote, “Experts say that’s not possible.” And regarding the “six studies” that Romney repeatedly cited as evidence against the massive deficit that his tax plan would create, it’s actually five studies, not six. Further:

Two of the five “studies” were blog items. And none of three other studies was nonpartisan: Two were written by Romney campaign advisers and a third was by a former economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

Romney also accused the president of doubling the deficit. This is a super-colossal lie. The president was inaugurated into a $1.2 trillion deficit for 2009 generated by Bush spending requests. The highest the deficit has climbed was $1.4 trillion by the end of that year. In every year since then, the deficit has been cut — contrary to the wishes of liberals like me.

On top of everything else, Romney continued to be elliptical and deceptive about how he intends to pass a repeal of various unknown tax deductions; how he intends to pass a health care replacement through a potentially hostile Senate after repealing Obamacare, which most of the sitting Democratic senators spent considerable political capital to pass into law; how he intends to replace Dodd-Frank when he knows the tea party Republicans in the House will never vote for new regulations on Wall Street; or how tax cuts will magically create jobs even though businesses are enjoying the lowest taxes in history yet aren’t spending the record $2 trillion in cash assets being mysteriously held in reserve.

Mitt Romney, for all of his spastic awkwardness, is clearly a good actor. Most serial liars and matchstick men are Oscar-worthy performers. You don’t get this far in a race for the presidency with a record of 20-40 lies per week (that Benen knows of) without being a slick operator. President Obama, for his part, wasn’t entirely as mighty as he could’ve been, but his side of the affair wasn’t the disaster some pundits (I’m looking at you, Chris Matthews and Ed Schultz) and, sadly, fellow liberals have claimed.

Adding… Not that this will impact the broader conventional wisdom about who “won,” you should try reading some of the transcript of the debate.

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  • Christopher Foxx

    Romney also repeated the lie that the president doubled the deficit. This is a super-colossal lie. The president was inaugurated into a $1.2 trillion deficit for 2009 generated by Bush spending requests. The highest deficit has climbed was $1.4 trillion by the end of that year.

    Major missed opportunity for Obama. “Double 1.2 isn’t 1.4, Mitt. But I know you have problems with basic math.”

  • Christopher Foxx

    some people who I otherwise admire and whose work I read every day, have more than just confused style for substance and leadership quality in the context of a debate — they’ve completely and totally ignored the words Mitt Romney actually said.

    The debates aren’t about substance. They ARE about style.

    Folks who care about substance picked their sides long ago. The only ones the debates will sway are those disengaged from the political process, those who are still undecided and are looking to the debates as the main source for making their decision. And those folks will not look deeper than who gave the better performance.