President Obama showed up last night. One would hope that after it was over, he would have realized that he was a fool for having put himself and his team through the tension of the past two weeks. While the campaign still has three more weeks to run and there will be a final debate next Monday, Obama set his the race back on an even keel which should probably show up in the polls in a few days. The President showed the side of himself which was AWOL two weeks ago and which had given real life to a dormant Romney campaign.
The President did not lay back and went immediately on the offensive. Romney expected it as well, but probably not with the steeliness and persistence that Obama demonstrated. Romney dished it out as well, but in any debate involving a President, the challenger always is at a disadvantage. The incumbent is still the President, and the institution gives him an edge and deference.
As was observed by one of the post debate analysts, these men do not appear to like or even respect each other; yet they both understand how the game is played. As the final debate will focus on foreign policy, it will naturally favor any incumbent. While Romney will certainly be well prepared, he cannot begin to have the information and plausibility that the incumbent will have on national security and foreign policy. Even last night Romney dove from the Benghazi discussion to U.S. policy failings in the Middle East by wheeling out his campaign bite on the subject; with nothing new or enlightening to excite the audience.
Most of the cutting issues of the campaign are now debated out and mistakes on both sides are the danger next week. Romney was decked by the President’s firmness and his relentless style. Next time he will be ready, except that the President could well tack to the statesman personality and try to fly above the fray; which would be a mistake.
While the moderator Candy Crowley got some negatives from Romney and after the debate from his handlers, overall she managed the diverse evening better than Jim Lehrer did the first one. Bob Schieffer will have the challenge next Monday to keep the discussion from plunging into an arcane and jargon filled world of bureaucratic alphabet soup and weapons’ numbers.
For both campaigns the new polls will tell much about what the mood will be next week. As the President has the natural advantage in the next subject area, a lift in the polls may well push him to seek a repeat performance next time to try to sew up his lead. For Romney he will have a chance to show specifics and command in an area where he has not given much detail. If he does this successfully he may impress many looking for him to appear more presidential.