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Nourafshan: First debate fallout

BY ALEXANDER NOURAFSHAN | OCTOBER 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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Former Gov. Mitt Romney’s performance in the first presidential debate this past week surpassed the expectations of most political observers: Romney appeared competent, confident, and in control, which are perceptions that had largely been shattered during the preceding months of campaigning.

Romney was able to lay out succinct policy positions with enough specificity to satisfy critics, while doling out enough attacks on the president’s record to enliven his own base, which may have otherwise been disaffected by Romney’s transparent pivot to the center on policy.

President Obama, on the other hand, performed uncharacteristically poorly, succumbing to some personal tendencies he was likely advised to avoid: The president appeared condescending, arrogant, and professorial, none of which play positively to audiences in a national debate.

The president offered long-winded, complicated explanations of concepts and did not use this opportunity to tout the strengths of his record, or attack Romney adequately on anything from consistency to secrecy on policy.

While there is strong consensus about the outcome of this first debate, there is considerably more disagreement about the implications thereof. Those on the right of the American political spectrum see the first debate as a harbinger of things to come: To them, Obama has finally met his match, and this debate marks the beginning of the end for the president’s campaign. For those on the left, there are two potent lines of thought.

The first is that Obama will surely perform better in both the town-hall-style debate as well as the final debate on foreign policy. The second is that the Romney campaign, which has demonstrated its lack of organization and deficiency in messaging capabilities, will not effectively capitalize on the momentum resulting from the debate.

To a limited extent, critics on the left make an important point with respect to the Romney campaigns’ challenge. Following the articulation of vastly moderated policy positions at the debate, the campaign now faces the dubious task of conveying a consistent message to the media. Moreover, Romney faces the additional burden of having to appear principled as to not indulge the criticism that Romney has changed positions for many important policy areas and cannot be trusted by any constituency.

Romney now faces the double-edged sword of performing well at the debate: He may benefit from a strong performance in front of a major national audience; however, he has now set very high expectations for himself, which he may or may not be able to sustain in subsequent performances.


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