It’s hard to tell if this was indeed a game-changer for Mitt Romney, but if it is, the Republican Party should take note that its possible to score a victory without bludgeoning poor people or minorities as the enemy. There was a point in the debate where Romney was discussing “poor kids” and he corrected himself to say, “lower-income kids, rather”. Its almost as if he cared about the words he was using and the negative message it would send to those looking for a leader who could at least understand that bad things happen to good people.
At another point he made sure to explain to the President that he meant no insult to call the President’s health care plan, Obamacare. Was he being genuine or feigning respect? It really doesn’t matter. What matters is Romney for once demonstrated that he knew what respect looked like.
Contrast this to his past utterances about moochers and freeloaders who don’t pay any taxes, the question is which sucker is he trying to fool?
But Mitt Romney exuded confidence and seemed knowledgable throughout the debate with President Obama last night, while the President seemed frustrated as he tried to straddle the fence between his discussion of policies and catchy platitudes.
Unlike four years ago, the President had the burden of experience and history on his shoulders last night. While he was able to be obscure and lofty as a junior Senator against John McCain in 2008, this time around he had to explain choices he had made and accept the impossibility of defending institutional decisions as if policies were entirely authored by one person. And so you get awkward moments where your opponent is able to challenge your commitment to education because you are also committed to renewable energy.
How do you respond to the accusation that your commitment to renewable energy is “50 years worth of breaks”? What does that even mean? It means nothing really, but it sounds devastating.
The burden of history places the President in a position where he must defend his own policies against figments of everyone’s imagination. How does one explain the diminishing value of vouchers for Medicare without seeming overly defensive? On paper, I thought he explained it pretty well, but on camera he looked as if he was reaching.
Mitt Romney was able to paint Obama as a partisan ideologue for not supporting the Bowles-Simpson commission, while at the same time acknowledging that he would do the same thing. Instead he offered alternatives like simplifying the code and creating incentives for growth. What does that mean? Pretty much anything any favorable ear wants it to mean.
Consistent with past positions, Romney described the debt as a moral obligation we must deal with, yet he was sure to be clear that he would increase defense spending and not change a thing about the benefits of Medicare and Social Security for those already retired or close to retirement. Which means that young people will have to foot the bill, not only to maintain those benefits, but to pay off the debt that are a consequence of those benefits.
And guess what? Once you take defense spending, Medicare and Social Security off the table for cuts, you’re left with cuts to programs that help the very people you are claiming to be morally obligated not to saddle with debt. So who is the sucker?
Stylistically, this was a hands down victory for Mitt Romney, and that may be all that matters, but substantively, Romney is still the same bag of contradictions and snake oil. And when one goes down the list of half-truths, it’s easy to see who he thinks the real sucker is.
Mitt Romney’s problem is that even in this marginal victory, he still has to go out and convince people to come out and vote for him. And in doing so, he will need to hope that folks remember his style and not his substance in this debate.
Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., NBC Latino contributor and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.