Oh the debate. Pundits left and right said this could change everything for either candidate. This was huge, and boy was it hyped as such. It could turn the tides for Romney, or reinforce Obama’s overwhelming lead, possibly ending Romney’s campaign. Those seemed to be the only options, and literally minutes after the debate it was clear that one narrative would prevail.
“He did exactly what he had to do to turn this campaign around,” said Rudy Guliani on MSNBC. Nearly every other Republican (and a lot of Democrats too) agrees. The headlines will as well, and as a result, much of the public will agree. Even Obama’s senior adviser David Plouffe had predicted a strong performance by Romney, and conceded as much after the fact.
Romney delivered. He sounded like a leader. He won.
That’s the narrative that will come out of this debate, and there’s no changing that now. And really, that’s probably all that matters.
Ezra Klein points out in the Washington Post that a number of studies have concluded that debates themselves almost never matter. Voters aren’t usually swayed one way or the other by a debate. Only twice in our history have the polls shifted significantly after a debate. Most times the pre-debate and post-debate numbers demonstrate, according to one study, a “fairly strong degree of continuity.”
But even if the debate does have some effect on the polls, the candidates’ actual performances will probably have nothing to do with it. Media spin is much more important. The candidates might not sway voters, but what the media says about the debate does. If everyone is saying Romney won the debate, then Romney won the debate. Voters will re-evaluate their experience with the debate accordingly.
So, can we go beyond the narrative for a minute?
I’m not sure either candidate “won the debate.” Romney sounded more aggressive and polished, Obama more sober and reserved. Frankly, the debate was boring. There were a lot of numbers, and yet both candidates managed to not get too specific.
When neither of them can agree on what numbers are correct, and the moderator is too incompetent to challenge them on the specifics we do get, it’s not a very productive debate. Too much hollow policy and not enough theatrics makes for a boring show. And that’s all the debates are: a show.
What Romney did is lie aggressively, and Obama failed to call him out on many of those lies. Probably the most egregious lie — that Romney’s tax cut plan will not reduce government revenues by $5 billion over ten years — just kept being tossed back and forth.
Yes it will. No it won’t. But actually, yes it will. But really, no it won’t.
Sounds more like a playground fight than a presidential debate.
By: Mike Guisinger
(Photo by DonkeyHotey under a Creative Commons License)