As I read coverage of the debate last night on conservative (& libertarian) blogs, a number of things struck me, two from left-of-center pundits, the first, David Gergen, practically the mouthpiece of the D.C. Beltway establishment.
But Romney also had a strong debate, in pursuing different goals than the president. He sought to come across as reasonable rather than confrontational — a candidate comfortable with the campaign’s trajectory.
“Attacking me is not talking about an agenda,” Romney said at one point.
Emphasis added. Snap polls called Obama the winner. He may have “won”, but he didn’t seem to persuade. Conservatives wishing for a knockout punch* (and Chris Matthews) were disappointed that Romney wasn’t more aggressive. But, then he wasn’t trying to appeal to conservatives (or Chris Matthews). “His target audience was,” Paul Mirengoff maintains, “above all, non-partisan voters and females.”
Another consensus reaction seemed to be that Romney looked more like an incumbent, Obama more like the challenger. As Yuval Levin put it on the Corner:
If you knew nothing about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney except what you saw in their final debate, you would have assumed that Romney was the incumbent president, that Obama was the challenger trying to unseat him, that Romney was clearly leading in the polls going in and that he remained there going out. You wouldn’t necessarily think Romney won the debate, but you would think he was winning the race.
Obama apparently came out as quite snide, peevish, condescending and small. He wants to make this election a referendum on the challenger, but since, as Gergen put it, Romney passed the commander-in-chief test, that dog just won’t hunt any more.
We’re stil waiting to hear Obama’s agenda for his second term. Should he win one.
*John Hinderaker addresses the conservative longing for a more aggressive Romney:
Our people were generally pleased; the ones who weren’t wanted Romney to be more aggressive. That’s a good sign. My impression, during the time I watched, was that Romney was thinking about America, and Obama was thinking about losing the election. Obama had obviously been coached to be “strong” and “tough,” and he came off looking like Joe Biden on meds. I think pretty much everyone perceived Romney as the more presidential of the two candidates.
Interestingly, John reports that he watched sports on television while his wife watched the debate. He was probably watched Monday Night football, the Detroit Lions were playing the Chicago Bears. How many other Americans chose to skip the debate for the game? And it does a disproportionate number of conservative and conservative-leaning citizens would prefer football to politics.
UPDATE: Turns out there was a baseball game on last night too.