I TIVOed the debate last night, and then hopped my way through it, like it was an ankle deep muddy stream. I got enough to get a decent feel for it, without subjecting my sanctification to the blah blah parts.
So here are just a few random observations, which I would ask all to take cum grano salis.
First, it seems clear that this is one of those debates which will take on a life and meaning of its own, independent of the actual performance on stage. During the debate, I thought Romney was more confident, affable, informed, etc. but Obama seemed generally okay. The talking heads afterwards — for about ten minutes — seemed to spin it in roughly the same way. (When talking heads spin, that would make them spinning heads, but that image might take us in another direction.) But when the Twitterverse was factored in, along with the morning after analyses, from both left and right, the consensus appears to have coalesced around the conviction that Romney buttered the stage with Obama. And so, these events being what they are, that seems to have been what happened. But whether it happened or not, that is certainly what it now means.
Second, it struck me that Romney is not as vulnerable on Romneycare (and such things) in this general election as I thought he was going to be. Consistent attacks on his state-level statism are certainly possible from the right, but it is looking as though Obama can’t mount an attack there. To do that, he would have to understand the love of liberty that motivates such critiques, which he clearly does not. Romney can deflect such questions with appeals to “process,” “bi-partisanship” and “state-level” action, and Obama doesn’t have anything to say — because had he been in the Massachusetts legislature, he would have been a participant. There are plenty of rocks to throw, but they are all on the other side of Romney where Obama can’t get at them to pick them up.
This is related to the third thing. One of the things that may have thrown Obama is that Romney tacked to the center in the debate. Jonah Goldberg concluded his observations with this caution, the last sentence of which I would like to highlight:
“And yet, we should keep in mind that most of his effective moments came when he distanced himself from the base of his party and struck a decidedly moderate, centrist, position. Personally, given the stakes and the state of his campaign, that doesn’t bother me very much. But, once again, we can’t say we weren’t warned.”
Those Christians who are supporting Romney need to do so in such a way that takes this caution, chisels it in granite, and sets it up as an impromptu memento for themselves in the Washington Mall. Support for Romney can only be justified (to the extent it can be) if Romney feels betrayed by his base, his support, his mandate-creators, on the second day of his administration. But if his supporters feel betrayed by him nine months into it, then we have ourselves one more instance of Lucy and the football. In other words, don’t say you weren’t warned.