Romney’s Real Debate Victories

Obviously, Mitt Romney won last night’s debate. His passion, charisma, energy, eye contact, personality, force of argument and earnest compassion contrasted with a washed out, tired, hesitant President Obama.

But seeing the debate from a professional’s eye, Romney scored a number of key victories in the turf wars that underlie this campaign. These victories are likely to last and will shape the final month of this race long after the glow from Romney’s performance has faded.

1. Romney got out from under Obama’s character assassination negative ads. By failing to discuss the Cayman Islands bank account, the 47% speech, Bain Capital or the tax return issue during the debate, he almost dismissed them from the campaign. Goodbye two hundred million dollars in advertising.

If Obama really believed that Romney was as callous, heartless and dishonest as his ads make him out to be, he would have raised the issues in the debate. It almost belies the statement, “I’m Barack Obama and I approve this message,” that begins or ends every one of his negative ads. If the candidate doesn’t believe in his own negative attacks enough to articulate them in a debate, why should the rest of us base our vote on them?

2. Romney insulated himself — with Obama’s consent — from the doubts of the elderly about his policy on their benefits. After the 47% comments, Romney risked losing the elderly for fear that he meant to curtail their entitlements. But Obama helpfully agreed that his Social Security policy did not differ from Romney’s at all and that either way the benefits would be ok. And he agreed that neither he nor his opponent would cut Medicare for those now over 65 or those closing in on retirement. So the 47% is now aimed at welfare, food stamps and Medicaid, the target Romney originally intended, and Obama let him get away with it.

3. Obama let Romney sell the notion that he was cutting Medicare for current beneficiaries by $716 billion and let Romney repeat that stat without contradiction. Obama could have embarrassed Romney by pointing out that Paul Ryan kept that cut in his budget (he has since backed away from it) but didn’t do so. And he let Romney inject the 15 member rationing board into the debate without trying to blunt Romney’s accusation that it would decide on who gets what treatment. Now this campaign will be about two issues, not just one. The economy and Obamacare will be the fulcrums on which this race with hinge.

4. Romney was able to make the debate, and therefore the race, about big issues like the size of government, the impact of taxes on growth, the need to drill for oil, Obamacare and rationing. He elevated not just his game but the race to these fundamental questions on all of which Republicans and Romney have an advantage.

5. He clearly explained how a tax increase for the “wealthy” was really a tax increase on the small businesses that hire half of all American workers. By explaining that these owners are taxed as individuals not as corporations (Subchapter S) without getting into the weeds, he made us understand that fighting these taxes is not about battling for yachts and private planes but about creating jobs.

Therefore, Romney took away Obama’s negative campaign, his class warfare, his entitlement issue, the Medi-scare tactic and much of the president’s case. In subsequent debates, Obama will be bound by what he said last night. He cannot undo his concessions and without doing so, it will be very hard for him to reconquer the ground he has lost.

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