On Tuesday, October 16, 2012, before approximately 65 million viewers, the Town Hall style debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney unfolded in one of the most contentious presidential debates in modern history. Romney entered the debate “determined to win,” but President Obama entered the debate “determined not to lose.” President Obama’s resolve not to lose was significantly more potent than Romney’s desire to win and it showed with his continuous feistiness on Romney’s policies while calling out his lies.
Romney was not “docile” during the encounters even displaying a bit of “disrespect” for the President. “You’ll get your chance in a moment. I’m still speaking,” Romney said in a condescending tone at one point while Obama was talking. (If the role was reversed, Republican conservatives would be “up in arms” that their President was being disrespected.) Romney said the President’s policies had failed and that the President did not live up to his promises. Both passionately disagreed on taxes, ways to reduce the deficit, energy, pay equity for women and health care issues. Another contentious moment ensued when the subject of immigration was raised. Romney said that Obama had failed to pursue the comprehensive legislation he promised at the start of his administration, and the President countered by talking about the Republican obstruction.
The President’s aggressiveness became even more apparent by calling Romney out on his claim that his five-point plan would create 12 million jobs. Obama said, “Gov. Romney says he’s got a five-point plan. Gov. Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules.” “That’s been his philosophy in the private sector,” Obama said. “That’s been his philosophy as governor. That’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate. You can make a lot of money and pay lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less.” “You can ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for it. You can invest in a country, bankrupt it, lay off the workers, strip away their pensions and you still make money. That’s exactly the philosophy that we’ve seen in place for the last decade,” the President said in a blistering summation. Romney said the accusations were “way off the mark.”
Romney set his own trap when the subject of the recent death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in a terrorist attack at an American post in Benghazi was raised. One of Obama’s most powerful knockout punches came when Romney thought that he had the President “boxed in” and you could see the attack gleam in Romney’s eyes. Although Romney spent weeks criticizing the Obama administration for mishandling the crisis that took the lives of four Americans in Benghazi, Romney once again got his facts wrong.
President Obama had already stated that on the day after the attack, he called it an act of terror and pledged to bring the attackers to justice. Obama also took full responsibility for the attacks. However, Romney decided to challenge the President on semantics. “I think it’s interesting the President said something, which is on the day after the attack he went in the Rose Garden and said this was an act of terror,” Romney said turning to the President. “You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror? It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you are saying?” “I want to make sure we get that for the record,” Romney continued, his eyes widening. “It took the president 14 days before he called it an act of terror.”
Obama responded, “Get the transcript,” but moderator Candy Crowley was quick to fact-check Romney, saying, “He did, in fact, call it an act of terror,” to which the President said, “Could you say that a little louder, Candy,” drawing a reaction from the audience.
In another of his most heated moments of the debate, President Obama delivered a firm, direct and commanding response to Romney for accusing the White House of playing politics with the Libya crisis. The crowd applauded Obama loudly, breaking the rules for debate decorum. Romney was stunned.
When asked by a member of the audience how Romney would differ from former President George W. Bush, Romney said, “We are different people and these are different times.” Romney said that he would attempt to balance the budget something Bush was unsuccessful in doing, get tougher on China and work more aggressively to expand trade. Obama again challenged Romney saying that President Bush didn’t attempt to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood or turn Medicare into a voucher system like Romney would.
There is no question that Obama succeeded in rattling Romney and took him off script that was evidenced when Romney claimed to have ordered up “binders full of women” to staff his Massachusetts cabinet. Romney’s “binder” comment went viral on Twitter and raised questions about whether Romney had exaggerated his role in recruiting top women for his cabinet during his 2003-2007 term as governor. The Boston-based non-partisan coalition of women’s groups MassGAP said in a statement that it spearheaded the process and compiled a roster of female applicants for top jobs in the state in 2002, then “presented this information to the administration for follow-up interviews and consideration for appointment.” However, according to Romney’s statement during the debate, that after being presented by his staff with an all-male list of potential appointees, he turned to women’s groups to find him suitable female candidates, saying “Well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?” At his request, Romney said, “they brought us whole binders full of women.” Is this another one of Romney’s lies?
The confident Romney of the first debate was clearly disheveled ignoring questions from the audience to re-engage arguments that had concluded. Then as the debate was coming to a close, Romney made another fatal mistake by referring to his 47 percent remarks emphasizing that he would look out for 100 percent of Americans. That was all Obama needed to talk about what Romney said of nearly half the country and Romney did not have a chance to respond.
As a result of the pounding Obama gave Romney, the conservatives needed to blame someone for Romney’s poor performance by attacking the moderator. For example, “Crowley’s behavior goes beyond despicable as it was a blatant attempt to influence the presidential election,” Americans for Limited Government said in a statement. “If CNN wants to maintain any shred of credibility as a ‘news’ organization, they should fire Crowley immediately for her gross violation of whatever remains of journalistic standards.” Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck tweeted during the debate that “Candy loves to police Romney! As soon as he begins to win she shuts him down.” Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg wrote, “There goes Candy holding Romney’s feet to the fire while, letting Obama unchain his muse.” Another conservative, John Nolte, wrote, “Crowley is the one losing this debate. She’s been absolutely disgraceful and biased from choice of questions to time.” Rush Limbaugh complained Wednesday that Crowley had committed “an act of journalistic terror.”
After the first debate, several national polls showed Romney enjoying a significant debate bounce, closing Obama’s lead and even gaining a slight advantage in some surveys. Although Romney successfully portrayed himself as an able leader and saw his favorability ratings climb, key swing states continue to show a narrow lead for Obama. We should know soon if this debate moves the polls at all; the poll jury is still out. Stay tuned for the final debate.