Winning the Post-Debate: Potentially The Best of Both Worlds For Obama

After last night’s debate, there is a lot of talk of a change in strategy for Obama.  There will certainly be changes in how Obama debates after he failed to adequately respond to Romney’s lies last night, and missed many opportunities to demonstrate the flaws in Romney’s policies. Debates of this type are not scored based upon how well the specific questions are answered. The debates are won in the media by using every moment a candidate has to speak to present their arguments and debunk the arguments of the opponent.

Some discussion of changes in overall campaign strategy misses the point. Buzzfeed writes that Obama has changed the strategy from criticizing Romney for being too conservative to being inconsistent. They are half right. Today Obama did highlight the inconsistency:

“When I got onto the stage I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney,” Obama told a crowd of some 12,000 the morning after the contest. “But it couldn’t have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country the last year promising 5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage said he didn’t know anything about that.”

Obama also accused Romney of “danc[ing]” around his positions; he hit him on taxes as well as outsourcing jobs; and claimed that Romney didn’t support teachers.

“The man on stage last night does not want to be held accountabilty for the real Mitt Romney’s decisions and what’s he been saying for the last year,” Obama said, suggesting Romney had switched his positions for political expedience. “And that’s because he knows full well that we don’t want what he’s been selling for the past year.”

The change is really not as drastic as Buzzfeed suggests. Earlier in the year Obama had a choice of criticizing the hard line conservative positions Romney adopted during the campaign or to attack him for flip-flopping by raising Romney’s past different, but more moderate, positions. Attacking Romney’s “severely conservative” positions was the more effective choice as it would not help Obama to raise the possibility that maybe Romney is more moderate than he now appears. However, once Romney made statements in the debate which were more moderate than the positions he has been campaigning on, it was consistent with their overall strategy to point out these differences. Obama will continue to tie Romney to the positions he has campaigned on for the past year, and prevent him from shaking the Etch-A-Sketch.

As long as Obama responds effectively (which is likely in the days beyond the first debate), this could be the best of both world for Obama. He can now justifiably attack Romney for both being too conservative and for being a dishonest politician who will say whatever he believes will help him politically, regardless of the truth. Plus Obama can be the candidate who defends Big Bird and Elmo.

The mainstream media crowned Romney the debate winner based upon the stylistic criteria usually used in these events, but some did realize the bigger trap which Romney has fallen into. First Read pointed out how Obama can win the post-debate:

Who wins the post-debate? If Romney won the instant reactions from last night’s debate, it is more than possible that the Obama camp can win the next 24 hours. Why? Because Romney said several things that could make life difficult for him today or in the next debate. First, Romney declared, “I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.” But in addition to supporting the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which are skewed heavily to the wealthy, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center says that Romney’s tax plan would give the Top 0.1% an average tax cut of more than $246,000. Next, he stated that “there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit.” While he has said his plan will be paid for, he’s yet to lay out any SPECIFICS on how he’ll pay for it. Romney also said, “I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding.” But the Ryan budget plan, which Romney has said he’d sign into law, leads to long-term spending reductions in education. And Romney also didn’t disagree with the description that his Medicare plan would consist of “vouchers” for future retirees. Winning a “debate” is always a two-part deal — the night itself, and then the aftermath. This is now an opportunity for Team Obama and a challenge for Team Romney.

Jonathan Bernstein further described the hole Romney dug for himself:

… Romney’s policy positions are even more of a shambles now than they were previously. Romney’s position, over and over again, is to simply bluff it on policy. His tax plan continues to be the most obvious one, but it really happens across the board. Romney insisted tonight more than once that his tax plan will keep taxes the same for the wealthy, cut them for everyone else, and not add to the deficit. Forget about the Tax Policy Center; just that much is obviously incoherent and impossible. And, more to the point, it’s clear he’s going to keep on insisting that it adds up, no matter how clearly it doesn’t. But it’s not just that; on every policy, he’s just going to insist that the consequences of his plans that anyone might not like simply don’t exist, so that he’s for sweeping spending cuts but insists that no particular program that anyone brings up might lose any funding, or that he’s for repealing Obamacare but those with pre-existing conditions will magically be protected.

Any benefits Romney did receive by winning the debate were tempered by a day in which the news centered around how Romney was dishonest and his tax proposals did not add up. Jonathan Chait described Romney’s successful debate plan–lying:

Romney won the debate in no small part because he adopted a policy of simply lying about his policies. Probably the best way to understand Obama’s listless performance is that he was prepared to debate the claims Romney has been making for the entire campaign, and Romney switched up and started making different and utterly bogus ones. Obama, perhaps, was not prepared for that, and he certainly didn’t think quickly enough on his feet to adjust to it.

Tim Dickenson summarized Mitt Romney’s Five Biggest Lies. Unfortunately he left out Romney’s false claims regarding Medicare cuts, but plenty of others have responded to that. The Medicare cuts come from subsidies to insurance companies which cost more to treat patients than under the government plan and cuts to hospitals to reimburse for treating the uninsured as there will be far fewer uninsured people. Paul Ryan includes the same cuts (and more) in his plan. Obama’s cuts do not reduce benefits to either Medicare beneficiaries or to doctors. In reality, Obamacare provides additional benefits to Medicare patients and increases payment to primary care doctors to care for Medicare patients.

Think Progress didn’t attempt to narrow the list to five, pointing out that Romney Told 27 Myths In 38 Minutes. I wonder if this is part of Romney’s strategy. He tells so many lies that it is difficult to keep up and present the evidence on all off them.

I am confident that Obama will do a better job of holding Romney accountable in the next two debates, but regardless of how Obama handles the debates, we have further evidence as to the weakness of Romney’s arguments, and a clear example of how Romney will say anything, and contradict anything he has said in the very recent past, for political gain.

How Jed Bartlet Would Handle The Debates

Jon Stewart and Bill Maher on the Debate

Initial Thoughts On The First Debate