How bad was the first presidential debate for President Obama? Even when he quipped about Wednesday night being his 20th wedding anniversary, Republican Mitt Romney got the better of him. “Congratulations to you, Mr. President, on your anniversary,” Romney said. “I'm sure this was the most romantic place you could imagine here -- here with me.”
Throughout the 90-minute high-stakes encounter, Obama seemed to have abandoned a trait that has been at the core of his identity: the guy who always finishes his homework and tells America that his daughters do too. Even when Obama delivered canned lines from his campaign scripts, he flubbed his delivery and looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there. In a debate that almost everyone was fact checking, Obama--who had as much at stake as anybody--seemed unwilling to challenge any of the numbers that Romney tossed out on stage.
Obama’s slovenly preparation and sub-par performance harmed his campaign by ceding huge advantages to the much better prepared and energized Romney -- and leaving many in his party dumbfounded and irate:
He gave Romney a pass on Romney’s surreptitiously videotaped remarks that 47 percent of Americans pay no income taxes, are dependent on government and see themselves as victims, while allowing the former Massachusetts governor to practically reinvent himself as a champion of the middle class. “Under the president’s policies, middle-income Americans have been buried,” Romney said. “They’re just being crushed.”
He allowed Romney to redefine his 20 percent across the board tax cut plan – projected to benefit the wealthy – as a boon to average Americans and economic growth that would do nothing to add to the deficit. Without any real pressure from the president or moderator, Jim Lehrer of PBS, Romney once again refused to specify which loopholes he would eliminate to help offset a projected $5 trillion of foregone tax revenue.
He delivered a remarkably lame defense of his two signature pieces of legislation, the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank overhaul of the banking and financial industry. He allowed Romney to essentially have it both ways – offering brutal critiques of the two measures while reassuring voters he would somehow preserve the best provisions of both pieces of legislation.
He gave Romney a free pass to repeatedly blast him for the $716 billion in Medicare cost savings from the Affordable Care Act, letting Romney suggest the reductions would come from current beneficiaries when they are designed to limit payments to insurance companies and other health providers. Moreover, the president failed to note that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, has the same Medicare cuts in his latest budget plan.
He stood by as Romney repeatedly lectured him on the need for bipartisanship and Obama’s decision to chart his own course on health care and reforms of Wall Street without Republican support. Left unsaid was that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell declared early on that his top priority was making Obama a one-term president and that Republicans refused to negotiate seriously on health care reform and other Obama priorities.