I realize which Mitt Romney showed up last night: this one.
Watch a bit of that, especially the part that starts at 0:53. That's the Romney we saw last night -- the one whose message is "How dare you impugn my reputation by caricaturing me as some sort of extremist! That's beneath you! You are disgraceful! And while we're on the subject, here are some other ways you're disgraceful...." It's the Romney who combines angry-conservative aggression with an insistence (expressed angrily, and shamelessly at odds with the facts) that he's much more moderate than scurrilous slanderers give him credit for being. With this he wins over the rage junkies and has some appeal to centrists who have empathy.
Thus, last night we got answers like this:
ROMNEY: So if the tax plan he described were a tax plan I was asked to support, I'd say absolutely not. I'm not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut. What I've said is I won't put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit. That's part one. So there's no economist that can say Mitt Romney's tax plan adds $5 trillion if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan.I can understand why the Obama team wasn't ready for Angry, Wounded Faux-Moderate Romney -- we've been waiting for Romney to shake the Etch A Sketch and move to the center ever since he clinched the nomination, and he hadn't even pretended to do it until last night. But now we know what he's up to, at least.
Number two, I will not reduce the share paid by high-income individuals. I know that you and your running mate keep saying that and I know it's a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it's just not the case. Look, I've got five boys. I'm used to people saying something that's not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I'll believe it. But that -- that is not the case. All right? ...
I don't know how this affects the race. I've seen the polls:
Instant-reaction polls conducted by CNN and CBS News suggest that Mitt Romney was the winner of the first presidential debate.(UPDATE: Um, that CNN poll does not bear scrunity.)
A CNN poll of debate-watchers found Mr. Romney very clearly ahead, with 67 percent of registered voters saying he won the debate, against just 25 percent for President Obama.
A CBS News poll of undecided voters who watched the debate found 46 percent siding with Mr. Romney, 22 percent for Mr. Obama and 32 percent saying it was a tie.
Google, which is experimenting with online surveys, found 38.9 percent of respondents saying they thought Mr. Obama performed better in a poll it conducted during the debate, against 35.5 percent for Mr. Romney and 25.6 percent who said it was a draw. But a second poll they conducted after the debate found 47.8 percent of respondents giving Mr. Romney the advantage, against 25.4 percent for Mr. Obama.
How overwhelming is this? Somewhat less overwhelming than, um, John Kerry's poll victory after the first debate in 2004:
Newsweek's post-debate poll showed 61 percent of respondents said Kerry won, 19 percent said Bush won and 16 percent said they were undecided.How'd that work out for Kerry in November?
The poll also found 56 percent said Kerry did better than expected in the debate while 11 percent said the same for Bush.
In the Los Angeles Times poll, 54 percent of 725 respondents surveyed declared Kerry the winner of the debate, compared with 15 percent who said Bush won.
Romney's going to get a boost, at least for a few days, because his performance was well received. But I wonder how many minds he changed. One problem was that the debate, especially at the outset, probably made less wonky voters' eyes glaze over -- I was dial-switching after the debate and the first e-mail Diane Sawyer talked about receiving was from a viewer complaining that you needed a calculator to follow the debate at the outset! A Newsday blogger wrote, "First debate opens with overwhelming wonkiness." Daniel Gross at the Daily Beast said, "First Debate a Think-Tank Snoozer." In The New York Times, Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg wrote, "the 90-minute debate unfolded much like a seminar by a business consultant and a college professor." I imagine that the people who've been on the fence are precisely the kinds of people whose eyes glazed over at all this.
And Zandar has this gloss on another poll:
Because when you trample your opponent, you look like a dick AND YOU LOSE. twitter.com/vivalalisiano/…— Zandar (@ZandarVTS) October 4, 2012
Yeah, he's citing a totally unscientific online poll -- but you'd imagine both sides would be trying to stuff the ballot box in online polls after the debate. I think Zandar might be on to something -- Romney seemed more reasonable than usual, but that's a very low bar. He still came off as highly aggressive. Moreover, I think he came off as a guy trying to win a debate, not as a guy trying to become president so he can help America. I wonder how many people's primary impression was that he won the debate as a contest rather than that he demonstrated a superior set of ideas.
So we'll see how this plays out.