‘Where was Obama tonight?’ MSNBC panelists call first debate for Romney


msnbc hosts and contributors were almost unanimous in their agreement that Mitt Romney came out ahead in Wednesday night’s presidential debate.

Rachel Maddow, who thought the “debate format died a very painful death tonight,” said Romney took advantage of moderator Jim Lehrer’s lackluster performance. ”Lehrer got rolled over by Romney over and over and over again, and it was the President’s fault that he did not try to do the same thing,” she said.

The debate’s focus was domestic policy, “on which [Romney] is weakest,” said Maddow, and yet the debate’s narrow subject matter still benefited him. “Nothing on education, nothing on women’s rights, nothing on immigration, nothing on Bain,” she said. “We didn’t talk about the things that matter.”

Chris Matthews was the most visibly agitated of the group. “I don’t know how he let Romney get away with the crap he threw out tonight about Social Security,” he said of Obama. “Where was Obama tonight? … I don’t know what he was doing out there; he had his head down. He was enduring the debate rather than fighting it … What was Romney doing? He was winning.”

Lawrence O’Donnell had a more subdued opinion. He diffused the criticism, saying Obama “came in with a presidential strategy: [He] was not going to step down from the presidential podium and become a prosecutor. Mitt Romney was happy to take on the role of the smiling prosecutor.”

Governor Martin O’Malley, the Democratic head of Maryland, agreed with O’Donnell. “The President’s always had a certain dignified reserve,” he said. 

Ed Schultz said Obama “was not properly prepared for this tonight.” Many observers noted Obama’s cool demeanor during the debate; former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm tweeted during the debate, “More passion, please, sir.”

Schultz also criticized Obama for not using the word “obstruction” and said the president “was afraid to use the Ryan plan as a manifesto of what these people want to do for this country. He played soft.”

Likewise, Chris Hayes noted that it was “49 minutes in [the debate] before we got a Ryan budget mention, which was shocking to me.”

Republican strategist Steve Schmidt summed it all up as a big victory for Romney. “[He] was in command of things from the beginning … a startling performance, in terms of how good Mitt Romney was,” he said.

“He made a good testimony tonight,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said of the Republican candidate. “But he will be indicted. He’s lying.”