The debates

Lots of Obama supporters were disheartened by the first debate. But I wondered at the time if Obama was purposefully holding back. Remember, at that point, the election’s outcome was nearly a foregone conclusion, and there was talk that Romney’s backers might start shifting their funds to Senate and House races they could actually win. The first debate totally changed that dynamic. But if you look at the trajectory of the debates as a whole, there is absolutely no doubt that Obama came out a clear, convincing winner, with Romney’s lies and foreign policy inexperience laid bare for the entire nation to see. (I’m not the only one who considered this rope-a-dope theory.)

Think about it. Romney “won” the first debate, in that he was more engaged than the president and ably pivoted from some of his more extreme positions. But that was only possible because he was willing, as he has been from the beginning of this campaign, to lie through his teeth every time he opened his mouth. “I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut.” Yes, sir, you do. Regardless of how he won, though, Romney won. And it changed everything. Suddenly, people thought Romney could win. The polls shifted. Resources weren’t shifted from Romney to congressional.

Then, Obama and Biden decided it was time to call Romney and Ryan on their malarkey. Biden did a superb job of that in the vice presidential debate. His “can you believe this guy is saying this stuff” demeanor was perfect. Ryan, the supposed numbers guy, came off as clueless, and the claims about how they were going to pay for their $5 trillion tax cut were exposed as empty platitudes (unicorn farts, as I put it in a comment on Dan Casey’s blog).

Then Obama came storming back in the second debate. “That’s just not true, Governor,” he said time and again. And the coup de grace when Romney falsely claimed that Obama hadn’t referred to Benghazi as an act of terror for 14 days, when, in fact, he had done so the very next day, as the transcript of his Rose Garden speech clearly shows.

That brings us to last night, when Romney came across as a belligerent, ignorant blow-hard at first, then a clueless, confused novice who thinks Iran needs Syria for a path to the sea. Obama literally had Romney sweating. It was a knockout. Post-debate polls showed it was a far worse blow-out than the first debate.

I can’t remember who said that Obama tends to play chess while his opponents think they’re playing checkers, but this may be the perfect example. Obama sacrificed a rook in the first debate, which was a risky move. But there’s little doubt that he took Romney’s queen in the end, and will almost certainly secure a checkmate on Nov. 6.

I could be wrong, and this may not have been an intentional strategy. (There are certainly lots of reasons to doubt it, most prominently how risky it would have been.) But there’s no doubt that, taken as a whole, the debates were a winner for Obama.

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