Eight years ago, after the first debate between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, there was a broad consensus that the challenger easily outperformed the incumbent. But after the event, the president simply didn't believe the assessments, and it "took his top aides some time" to convince Bush otherwise.
For what it's worth, the same is not true of President Obama, who seems to understand all too well exactly what happened last week. David Axelrod told CBS yesterday, "The president is his harshest critic."
We saw a glimpse of this last night, when Obama attended an event in Los Angeles, speaking after performances from a series of pop stars. After complimenting their flawless presentations, Obama added, "I can't always say the same."
Glenn Thrush had a fairly detailed report on the president's acute self-awareness when it comes to the events of Wednesday night.
"You could tell he was pissed," said a person close to the president, "But it wasn't like the end of the world. It was like, 'That wasn't good. The next one has to better.' No apologies. No hand-wringing." [...]At first, Obama didn't think his performance was a complete disaster. But he began Thursday morning by watching excerpts of his own performance and was especially struck by his own tentative, grim demeanor -- especially when he and a more relaxed Mitt Romney were broadcast in split-screen. It was worse than he thought, according to one person close to the situation.
An Obama aide told Politico, "He had real clarity about what had happened."
What's more, according to his aides, the president has been determined to bounce back, and "seemed to be a totally different guy on Thursday. Gone was the distracted, deer-in-headlights mumbler. In his place, suddenly, was someone doing a pretty good impersonation of Obama '08."
Of course, the number of Americans who saw this fired-up president was tiny as compared to the number who watched last week's debate, but the evidence suggests Obama looks at the debate as a wake-up call.