I’ve said it in tweet after tweet, Facebook status after Facebook status, and blog post after blog post… this election is not over. Not by a long shot. And this fact has never been more true in the more than 16 months since Mitt Romney officially announced his candidacy in New Hampshire on June 2, 2011. Contrary to what you may be reading in hopeful Facebook statuses and tweets from your conservative and liberal friends on Facebook, this election has just begun. We have ourselves a race. And during the next month, through the messy, ugly, and at-times-annoying process we call representative democracy, Americans have a choice. Sure, this choice is an important one for our country, our security, our economy, and our freedoms. But America is stronger and more resilient than any single Presidential election. Thank God and our Founding Fathers for that.
Official and unofficial debates have long been some of the most formative and defining parts of our nation’s history. As the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution were being written, our Founding Fathers debated many of the same things we debate today. During Washington’s presidency, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson debated the role of the federal government, the best economic model, our role in foreign affairs, and the role of the President. Every one of the 43 men who have been President have had to debate foreign policy, the economy, the role of government, and how to solve our nation’s biggest problems. Many of our nation’s problems have been solved. But there is much work left to do. And, as usual, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney represent many of the competing ideas about how to solve our country’s problems. Last night, in the first general election debate, we saw each man confront the other in front of the American people to begin making the final plea for votes. And I can’t remember a debate with as many surprises as this one.
What I Expected Before the Debate:
Mitt Romney had some minimal momentum going into tonight with some Obama hiccups the past few weeks. But President Obama was excellent in the 2008 debates. I had the honor of attending the 2008 Town Hall debate at Belmont University in Nashville, where I witnessed his ability to connect with his audience, explaining things eloquently and simply, and seem competent and ready to be President. I expected these skills, along with his experience actually in office as President, to benefit him tonight. The polling numbers have been consistently in his favor – He’s more likable. More people trust him. More people relate more easily to him. Even though Gov. Romney has been polling better with independents and being trusted to do what’s best with the economy, those numbers haven’t translated to leads in the polls.
Over the last month, every GOP pundit and former campaign staffer has come out of the woodwork advising Romney how to turn things around or, at worst, criticizing every thing he does as if they want to see him fail. I’ve refrained from commenting. What do I know? I’m not Peggy Noonan or David Brooks. And regardless of whether I agree with some/all of what they’re saying, what good would my criticism and complaining do? So I cautiously and optimistically moved forward. The campaign had been long. There were four debates and a month of campaigning left. As I’d repeatedly said, the race wasn’t over.
And while I knew Debate #1 wouldn’t decide the race, deep down I knew Romney needed at least a tie. I knew Romney had to turn things around. He had to fight the narrative coming forward from the Obama campaign for months that he was out of touch, unrelatable, and not presidential. Romney had to stop playing small ball and begin crafting a broader narrative, NOT ONLY about Obama’s failures and incompetencies BUT ALSO about why Romney’s leadership and principles will help solve our country’s problems. The task was tall. The need was high. But there were a couple hints that had glimmers of hope:
– after a month of declaring Romney all but out, the chattering class was said to have a stake in Romney having a comeback to make the election compelling down the stretch. I didn’t buy this.
– after four years of being President, being sheltered, being surrounded by sycophants wanting a taste of Presidential power, and doing softball interviews on The View and David Letterman, the incumbent is often shellshocked in the first debate when challenged directly, without a teleprompter or ability to cut the press conference short.
What I’m Thinking After the Debate:
Wow. I don’t know if I’m more shocked at how strongly Gov. Romney performed or how poorly President Obama performed. Yes, I’m biased. Admittedly so. But when Bill Maher and Andrew Sullivan (“This was a disaster!”) are tweet yelling at Obama, and when the entire MSNBC crew is baffled at how Obama could have performed so poorly (Chris Matthews’ “What was he doing!”)… my debate thoughts are being confirmed not by conservatives on Fox News, but by liberals.
How was Romney so strong?
He was finally the candidate I thought he could be that gave me hope that he could be the President I know that we need. He was principally conservative when he needed to be (we need to lower our tax rates and close loopholes, we need to let states be the laboratories of democracy, and we need to make our entitlement programs sustainable) and pragmatically moderate where common sense dictates (there are aspects of ObamaCare and Obama’s Race to the Top that are good policy, we do need some regulation, and we should cap how much the rich can deduct from their taxes). He was confident without being cocky. He was firm in defending himself against President Obama’s untrue attacks without being overbearingly combative against a President who is well-liked. He was poised and presidential. He articulated why his policies and principles are truly compassionate towards those in need, how our economic problems are indeed a moral issue. He finally showed the Mitt Romney I saw when I met him for 15 minutes in 2010 and who many close to him say they see all the time: “‘You should see him when he really gets rolling on policy and ideas — the man knows what he’s talking about and is ready to lead.’ The Mitt Romney on the podium tonight is the Mitt Romney that I’ve seen in these settings; firm but friendly and utterly in command of the facts.”
How was Obama so weak?
This is I think the most mind-blowing part to me. He just didn’t seem prepared. As the Washington Post‘s The Fix stated, President Obama’s grimness, discomfort, and dispassionate demeanor did not come off well. As some liberals pointed out, something has gone terribly wrong for the President if Governor Romney comes out of the debate appearing more human and in touch than he does. He had some solid answers and rebuttals to Romney on Medicare, but often times he seemed merely a shell of his former self in 2008. Romney dictated the pace of the evening. Romney seemed more collected. Romney seemed more presidential. I received text after text from my liberal friends… “It was a good night for your boy.” Indeed it was.
What Comes Next?
Well, in a week, we get Paul Ryan vs. Joe Biden. I’m quite excited for that… it should be a fun one. But I can’t help but feel more nervous than I did 24 hours ago. Now, I have a lot more hope… in my candidate and his chances to win. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, I have even more hope in how successful a President Romney would be. With this hope comes more nerves and more of a need for the campaign and candidate to build off of this momentum. This election is far from over. The Obama machine will move into high gear now. If Governor Romney has mediocre or losing debates in Round 2 or 3, he still loses this election. He didn’t win the election tonight, but he kicked it into high gear. The early flash polls about the impressions from tonight’s debate look overwhelmingly good for Romney. But polls are imperfect. There will be a month of attacks, ads, and more debates. If Governor Romney can successfully navigate as the candidate we saw tonight (poised, prepared), then he may just get enough votes to show just how Presidential he can be.
Friends, we have ourselves a race!