James Lipton on the first debate: ‘For the first time, Romney was in the moment’


As political commentators try to explain what they largely see as President Obama’s uncharacteristically lackluster performance in Wednesday’s presidential debate, they have examined everything from facial expression to voice tone. On Thursday, Hardball’s Chris Matthews asked James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio, to help analyze the performance aspect of the debate.

Obama is already being heavily criticized for looking down at his podium too often, as such behavior translates poorly to the split screen; Lipton added that the president wasn’t even looking in the right direction.

“There are only two places he can go,” Lipton said. “Either into the camera, or at his partner, the person with whom he’s debating. … The rest of it was a waste of time and a waste of energy, and I think made him look insufficiently interested in the moment. In acting, we say that we have to find ourselves in the moment and he was not in the moment.”

Romney fared far better, in Lipton’s view. “Interestingly enough, Mitt Romney, whom I accused in my first article that I wrote about this, ‘How to Act Human,’ of being unable to relate to the public, was in the moment,” he said. “For the first time, he found himself in the moment.”

Matthews noted the differences in the candidates’ closing statements may have sealed Obama’s defeat. “That was a victory speech and a concession speech, side by side,” he said, identifying Romney’s closing statement as the victory speech.

Lipton agreed that Obama appeared listless and anxious, even unprepared. He also gave Romney credit for seeming to speak from the heart, almost as if the candidates’ styles had been reversed.

“The president of the theater guild once taught me a lesson about writing plays,” he said. “He said, ‘Jim, the most important two minutes of your play, never mind everything else, are the two minutes before the audience goes out for intermission. Those last two minutes, that’s what they’ll remember.’ The last two minutes were a disaster for the president and a triumph for Mitt Romney.”

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama

James Lipton on the first debate: 'For the first time, Romney was in the moment'