On the day after Denver, headlines across the country went about like this:
“Round 1: Romney” – Denver Post
“Mitt Mauls O” – New York Post
“Why Obama Lost” – New York Daily News
And, in my non-scientific, channel flipping poll, those headlines reflected the thoughts of most political observers. The contender won. The incumbent clearly did not.
Here’s the thing I continue to find most interesting though; the massive spin that endures, days later at the post-debate epicenter, cable news, where the explanatory after shocks go on and on and on.
Understandably, Democrats weren’t happy with the President’s performance, prompting left leaners like the MSNBC host Ed Schultz to declare Governor Romney a liar. Schultz said the word liar so many times I lost count. Others blamed moderator Jim Lehrer for the President’s performance, claiming Lehrer lost control of the debate. Wasn’t that the idea behind Lehrer’s format to allow the candidates talk to each other?
Republicans did verbal victory dances. Among the more outspoken, former Governor and Romney surrogate John Sununu who called the President “lazy” and claimed the debate revealed the President’s “incompetence.” Fox News host Sean Hannity called Mr. Obama “stammering.” Ann Coulter claimed that after the debate “anniversary or not, Michelle wanted to go home with Mitt.”
At this very moment the yammering continues about what happened. I keep looking for why it happened. Did the President have a stomachache or a headache or just learn of a national security threat? Was he really off his game or does Romney just have better game?
I tell my clients that the way they listen sends a strong message, that non-verbal cues can have a bigger impact than words, especially on TV. Since the first nationally televised presidential debate in 1960 between Kennedy and Nixon, voters have been judging candidates not only on substance, but also on delivery and appearance. Flop sweat under broiling studio lights cost Nixon the election.
I haven’t heard anyone blame studio lights for the President’s Wednesday night demeanor but it was distracting to see Obama spend so much time looking down while Romney spoke. It was awkward when the President directed his comments to Jim Lehrer, instead speaking directly to Governor Romney. Mr. Obama had difficulty breaking down complicated topics. And he clearly did not show the same energy and passion he exhibited during speeches on the campaign trail a day later.
In contrast, Governor Romney seemed ready. Right out of the box he was respectful, addressing Obama as “Mr. President.” He was aggressive, plain- spoken, matter of fact. He sounded reasonable. He appeared open and comfortable. He spoke directly to the President and looked him in the eye.
Spin away folks but while you’re at it, can anyone calmly explain what happened?
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan asked as much Sunday on ABC’s This Week, wondering, “Was it a strategic mistake on the part of the Obama campaign to play it a certain way and it didn’t work or were there other factors involved? To me it’s a mystery and one of those delicious things that will probably be answered in the big books about 2012… but, yes, the president was bad and Romney was good.”
By John Seigenthaler, Reuters, October 7, 2012