Here’s how last night’s debate played out: Both President Obama and Governor Romney gave admirable performances, and both men made their positions clear on issues like gas prices, immigration and middle-class tax cuts.
But here’s how it looked to viewers: Obama flew past his challenger with a much-improved debating effort and several memorable quips, plus a little help from a few Romney gaffes (binders full of women?).
As an editorial staff, we’ve picked our winners on the 10 main points from tonight’s debate, with a special shout-out to Candy Crowley, who made moderating look easy.
EDUCATION: Obama wins.
Tragically, the first question of the night was never really answered as specifically as others, but the president gets kudos for bringing up education as a solution to middle-class problems like unemployment and small-business boosts. Also, Obama’s methods of improving schools (e.g., cutting out banks as middlemen for student loans, supporting teachers and improving the public school system as it stands) are far more fair and practical than Romney’s (e.g., grading schools and supporting vouchers).
GAS PRICES AND ENERGY: Romney wins.
Romney’s argument that the proof of Obama’s effectiveness in dealing with America’s energy struggles is in the price at the pumps sealed the deal in this portion. Americans gauge whether or not the US needs to drill or invest in clean energy or create a new plan when they pull out their wallets to fill up their tanks, and gas prices are still so high. Although Obama’s plan to invest in clean energy is better for America in the long run, Romney’s plan to get North America independent from foreign oil in five years is the fix we need before we can fully invest in long-term solutions.
THE MIDDLE CLASS: Romney wins.
Like the debate on gas prices and energy, both men mainly appealed to their own political bases. Obama was more specific in how benefiting the wealthy doesn’t help the middle class, but Romney beat the drum of his five-point plan effectively and memorably. If anything works for Romney, it will be the specific but vague message of that five-point plan that appeals to voters.
WOMEN AND WORKPLACE EQUALITY: Obama wins by a mile.
Although Romney started strong with his tale of wanting more female applicants for his cabinet and having the most women in a cabinet in the country, he quickly nosedived into a patronizing view of women that will not be received well outside of the Mormon faith. Romney appealed from a traditional sense of motherhood, assuming women need and want flexible working hours in order to be good mothers and that all women are mothers in general. Although neither specifically addressed what they would do to equalize pay, Romney shot himself in the foot.
DIFFERENCES FROM PRESIDENT BUSH: Both candidates win.
Romney again emphasized his five-point plan and said he differs from Bush on each point, including the fact that he doesn’t want to depend on the Middle East for oil and will champion small instead of big business. Obama said Romney does differ from Bush, but not on economic issues. Romney’s differences, according to Obama, lie in his extreme social views. Both candidates seemed to address points their supporters already agreed with, and the potential for persuasion seemed low in this portion.
IMMIGRATION: Obama wins.
This is an issue that, frankly, puts Obama out in front. Though his administration has not officially put into work a law that combats the illegal immigration problem, Romney’s support of self-deportation is, at best, impractical and, at worst, discriminatory and ultimately harmful to the nation. Romney’s belief that 12 million people will simply decide that things are too hard here and then move back to their home countries has proven to be ineffective. This just increases the issue of poverty and its symptoms (higher unemployment and crime rates). And granting children citizenship, but not giving it to their parents, does the same thing.
ATTACK ON LIBYAN CONSULATE: Obama wins by a hair (and a Romney campaign fact-checking goof).
Both candidates presented firm arguments, but all anyone will probably remember is Crowley fact-checking Romney’s statement that Obama did not call the attack an act of terrorism in his address at the Rose Garden in Las Vegas days after the attack. Although fact-checking comes out after each debate, Romney’s credibility took a hit in the moment that, in that portion of the debate, he could not recover from. If anyone remembers anything else, it will probably be Obama’s emotional assertion that Romney’s suggestion that the White House’s rhetoric was politically driven was offensive.
ASSAULT WEAPONS: Obama wins.
This is a sticky issue, given the recent violence in places like Aurora, Colo., but Obama had the fortunate evidence of President Clinton’s assault-weapons ban (and Bush’s subsequent release of that ban) and the related upswing in violent crimes committed by automatic weapons as proof in this segment of the debate. Romney’s adherence to a set of proscribed opinions dictated to Republican candidates by their NRA backers hamstrings him on this issue.
GREATEST MISPERCEPTION OF THE MAN: Romney was good, but Obama was better.
Neither man really answered this question about himself, though Romney’s explanation of his faith and years of religious service were humanizing and one of the few moments where he really connected with the audience. But Obama’s mere mention of Romney’s unfortunate, behind-closed-doors mention of his separation from the “47 percent” of Americans who don’t pay their income taxes was difficult for the governor to explain.
OVERALL PRESENTATION: Obama wins.
The town hall forum led to a more natural viewing experience, with laughter and some applause from the audience. Pacing and candidates standing up out of their chairs in a huff always quickens the audience’s heart rate, and thus made for an exciting debate anyway. However, the real excitement came because Obama’s supporters who wanted to see a more aggressive, hard-hitting president certainly got their wish on Tuesday. Romney was not necessarily less aggressive than during the first debate, but the president improved so much from the first to second that he seemed to crush his opponent. Obama’s quick wit and graceful acceptances of when his time was up so more people could ask questions put him even further over the edge.
As revved up as this debate was compared to the last, both candidates better bring their boxing gloves for the brawl of a tiebreaker we’re expecting to see Monday.