by George Landrith

Gov. Mitt Romney was the obvious and overwhelming winner of the first debate. If this debate were a heavyweight fight, the referee would have stopped the fight. Having said that, Pres. Barack Obama did better than expected given that he didn’t have the aid of a teleprompter.

Quite frankly, without a teleprompter, there was a serious risk that Obama would again say something boneheaded as he did in his recent 60 Minutes interview or on the campaign trail. However, Obama avoided serious gaffes like calling the attacks on our embassies “a bump in the road” or telling Americans “you didn’t build that” or admitting that he believes in “redistribution.” But while Obama avoided any big gaffes, he was completely outmatched by Romney – substantively and stylistically. 

Obama was without confidence and without energy. He was almost apologetic that he had nothing positive to offer. He kept repeating the same tired talking points and Romney made him pay for it. In fact, Obama’s most repeated sound byte was universally discredited even by liberal fact checkers months ago.

It was perversely ironic to listen to, of all people, Obama (aka Mr. Glittering Generalities and Mr. Hope and Change) complain that Romney hasn’t provided enough detail. To this day, Obama has provided no specifics about how the next four years will be any different from the last four. In contrast, Romney released a detailed 58 point eoncomic plan last spring and the media criticized him for providng too much detail. Fortunately, by the summer, he had synthized his economic play down to five main points.

A CNN post-debate poll revealed that voters thought Romney defeated Obama by a margin of 67 to 25. My question is who were the 25% and what debate did they watch? For the record, CNN’s Polling Director Keating Holland reports that “no presidential candidate has topped 60% in that question since it was first asked in 1984.”  Even MSNBC personalities reported that Romney won handily. CBS’s poll also said Romney won big by a better than 2 to 1 margin. That is a serious beating.

Because Obama has never had to face tough questions from the lapdog media, he was completely unprepared to defend his extraordinarily poor record. When Obama speaks on the campaign trail, he creates weak, even silly straw man arguments and then easily defeats these mere shadows. He’s been doing that his entire career and the media plays along. The problem is that in a real debate, you must complete with a real person and discuss real ideas – not empty and weak straw man arguments. Obama has been effectively training and sparring with a child. And tonight Obama was exposed as intellectually lazy.

Sylistically, Obama looked down and avoided eye contact through much of the debate and looked disinterested and annoyed. He had no effective response when Romney called him on his false facts. On more than one occasion, Obama looked to the Jim Lehr, the moderator, to rescue him from the pounding.

Once it was clear that Obama was losing, he began lapsing into long, rambling answers hoping to run out the clock and keep Romney from landing anymore proverbial punches. It was the equivalent of a fighter covering up while absorbing punishment and hoping for the round to mercifully end.

Whether the topic was job growth, tax reform, balancing the budget, ObamaCare, or anything else, Obama was on the defensive and kept retreating to tired rote talking points. At times, Obama’s recitation of worn out sound bytes made it appear that he wasn’t even listening to the moderator or his opponent, but was simply spouting memorized phrases and paragraphs that were only tangentially related to the debate he was supposedly participating in.

At times, Romney was pounding Obama so decisively that he ran the risk of making people feel sorry for Obama. But Romney mixed in good natured humor to avoid that pitfall. It was a monster beat down, but done skillfully so as not to make Obama a sympathetic victim. During the debate, some of my friends shared their observations. One of them, an experienced political operative, said that Mitt’s new nickname might be “The Velvet Hammer.” In those three words, my friend, Dennis Stevens, described the skill with which Romney dismantled Obama.

Romney had a better command of the issues, grabbed the initiative, put Obama on the defensive, and refused to allow Obama to get away with misrepresentations. At one point, when Romney corrected Obama on his facts about taxing job creators, Obama looked to the moderator and asked if they could talk about something else. Ouch! The only memorable lines from the debate came from Romney.

The debate was a knockout. But that doesn’t mean that the election is a knockout. Romney will get a bump. But the election is a month away. Romney will have to continue his strong debate performance every day on the campaign trail. But tonight Mitt Romney made it more likely than it was before the debate began that he will win the election. That’s not a bad night’s work.

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George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. Mr. Landrith is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Business Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics. In 1994 and 1996, Mr. Landrith was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District. You can follow George on Twitter @GLandrith.

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