At last night’s debate between the Republican nominee and the president, it was Mitt the Likable Moderate who showed up: relaxed, in command of details, hair carefully tousled, offering kind words for both Democrats and government regulation. The president, on the other hand, was verbose, weary, occasionally peeved and seemingly ill-prepared. TheTwitter consensus, formed before Obama had finished his first answer, is that Romney won decisively.
We don’t disagree. Now the question is how, if at all, his victory will change the remainder of the campaign.
There are several ways to score a debate. Some suggest watching with the sound off, on the theory that a candidate’s body language communicates better than his words. (We may try this next time.) Then there is the rhetoric: Who got off the most zingers? Were there any gaffes, and were they genuine? Last night’s debate provided precious little material on either score, although Romney had a cute quip about how honored he was that the president was spending the night of his 20th wedding anniversary “here with me.”
Then there is the radical notion of actually assessing what the candidates say about the issues they are debating. This, however, turns out to be sort of complicated.