Chris Graham: Who won the debate?
The winner of the debate about the debate was no contest. The commentariat made it clear across the spectrum that the feeling is that Mitt Romney won the first of three presidential debates in the 2012 cycle.
Conservatives, not surprisingly, filled the blogosphere and twitterverse with bold pronouncements to that effect, but you can filter that out by figuring that conservatives have to say that Romney won, because that’s what partisans generally do after a debate, is say that their guy won.
In a surprising split decision, the liberal cognoscenti seems to agree, but for reasons different than their conservative brethren do. The main criticism from liberals: The president didn’t go on the attack, didn’t use Romney’s comments about the 47 percent against him, didn’t act more forcefully to tie the Paul Ryan budget around his neck like a millstone.
My take: Neither, in my view, did the first thing to touch base with we, the people. The wonk in me had a great time watching the two candidates debate the specifics of their respective plans. I imagined as the wonk in me enjoyed the back-and-forth that the average voter was probably left a bit befuddled, especially because as much as the two droned on and on and on about what they’d do and what the other guy wouldn’t do, they each left serious, fundamental questions on the table unanswered.
How does Romney balance the federal budget with trillions in tax cuts for the wealthy without absolutely gutting spending on health care, education and infrastructure? How does Obama reconcile billions of dollars in Medicare cuts with the claim that spending less on Medicare won’t result in reductions in the number of seniors covered by the program?
With all the back-and-forth on those and related issues, I can’t answer either of those big-issue questions after this debate.
In the end, in my mind, the average person who started at 9 p.m. Eastern thinking that they were voting for Barack Obama and flipped the TV to another channel 90 minutes later is still voting for Obama, that the average person who started out ready to pull the lever for Romney is still going to back their guy, and that the average undecided vote went to bed as a still-undecided voter.
We all wake up tomorrow morning and will be told by news sources on the right and left that Romney won the debate, and that as a result, the polls will tighten, and that the race is on.
Don’t be surprised when the polls do tighten a bit. That’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy.