The media, politicians, even the students who write this very blog have talked about the strategy of “setting expectations” for the debates. The theory is campaigns and candidates should set their own expectations for the debates as low as possible, while making their opponents look like rhetorical Gods. This strategy functions to make the candidate’s weakest appearance seem like a victory, and their opponent’s best appearance seem sub-par. Romney and President Obama both did this very well prior to tonight’s debate. Romney’s campaign gave overwhelming compliments to President Obama, with a Romney campaign administrator calling him “the most gifted speaker in modern political history.” Obama responded with humbleness, saying: “Gov. Romney is a good debater. I’m just OK.”
The sad part is tonight President Obama was simply, as he put it, “just ok.” There is a general consensus among the media and bipartisan agreement President Obama did not, by any means, do his best in tonight’s debate. This is especially obvious when compared to Romney’s performance. Romney did a miraculously good job of reintroducing himself to America and stomping out stereotypes which have been developing throughout the campaign. CNN commentator David Gergen said, and it seems many agree, “Mitt Romney was head and shoulders better than anything we have seen him do before.” Even MSNBC’s liberal anchor Chris Matthews and liberal comedian and HBO anchor Bill Maher agreed Romney won. On air, after instructing the president to watch MSNBC in order to “learn something about this debate,” Matthews said “What was Romney doing? He was winning! If he does five more of these, forget it! That’s my thought.” Maher took to twitter to give his two-cents, tweeting: “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Obama looks like he DOES need a teleprompter.”
Obama’s non-verbals were enough to declare Romney the winner. From the get-go Obama seemed tired and less-than-thrilled about being at the debate. His usual charisma was missing and he came off as aggravated and even angry at times. Whereas Romney looked at Obama when he addressed him, used grand, strong hand gestures, and stood with a confident, “presidential presence,” Obama was slouching onto one leg, looking down versus looking at Mitt Romney, Jim Lehrer, or the audience, and cracking a full smile only a few times throughout the hour and a half debate. President Obama’s responses also lacked the tenacity and enthusiasm they usually carry. Compare this Obama to his performance in the 2008 debates or perhaps his 2004 DNC keynote address and you really start to wonder what a toll four years in the Oval Office can take on a man. However, there could be an explanation for Obama’s behavior. Just as candidates set expectations before the debates, could Obama be setting the bar low for himself in order to win future debates? The Romney campaign set Obama on such a high pedestal Obama may have thought it best to underperform in this debate, in order to make a strong come back and look ten times better in the upcoming debates. If Americans still have the disaster of this debate in the back of their minds, almost any sort of energetic performance will make Obama look like a winner. it is a risky, but comprehensible move if this is the case.
Overall, tonight’s debate was confusing. There were no major controversies or gaffs, both the candidates and the moderator essentially did the opposite of what was expected of them, and even the liberal media is declaring Romney a winner. These results should have every American on the edge of their seat waiting to see what the future debates will hold!
Fun Fact: My favorite tweet of the night comes from Chris Rock: