The first of three presidential debates took place last night at the University of Denver, and two impersonators who looked very much like President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney engaged in a substantive, zinger-free discussion about domestic policy. Surely, it was not the candidates themselves, because the real Mitt Romney has a tax plan that would give the top .1% an average tax cut of more than $246,000, as pointed out by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center and cited by our friends at First Read. The guy playing Romney last night, however, declared that he would not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans. The real Mitt Romney has what Factcheck.org calls an “impossible plan,” whereby he would cut $5 trillion in federal taxes over a decade and somehow offset that massive cut with equally massive reductions, a plan which the Tax Policy Center concluded was mathematically impossible. The guy playing Romney last night kept insisting that he does not have a tax cut of that scale. The real Mitt Romney would only guarantee insurance for people with pre-existing conditions if they have maintained coverage with no significant lapses, a plan that excludes millions with life-threatening illnesses. The guy playing Mitt Romney last night asserted that “pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.”
And the real Barack Obama would never have allowed these types of whoppers to go unchallenged! The Obama up there last night was very different from the Obama we saw triumph in the 2008 general-election debates against John McCain. He lacked energy, he kept looking down, he was not concise. And people definitely noticed, as the instant-reaction polls reflected. There were virtually no attacks on his challenger, no mention of the recent 47% comments that have haunted the Romney campaign for the past couple weeks. So the big question on everyone’s mind is: what happened to the President?
Not all is lost for Team Obama, however. He can still challenge the exaggerated claims made by his opponent in the immediate aftermath and in the next two debates. But the President’s performance does put more pressure on his No. 2, Vice President Joe Biden, who faces off against VP candidate Paul Ryan on October 11.
No one knows how the next three debates will go or how the candidates’ strategies will change, but one thing is for certain: we have ourselves a race.