By Ronnie Ellis
President Barack Obama got shellacked as Mitt Romney gave his best performance yet in Wednesday night’s presidential debate.
Obama apologists offer excuses and warn about making too much of it. Some are valid: multiple past incumbent presidents fared poorly in first debates and went on to win elections; four years in the bubble of the White House where the only question is whether you are “a truly historic” or merely “a great” president ill-prepares the incumbent for someone getting in his face and Obama will do better in the remaining debates.
He better be better.
But after all that, one conclusion remains: Romney won and for the short term he seems back in a game that appeared to be inexorably slipping away. He was aggressive and assured. He didn’t display the awkwardness and artificiality he does on the stump. He smiled confidently, looked a sitting president in the eye and bested him. He stole the swagger of the Obama campaign.
Obama helped. He didn’t seem to want to be there. It wasn’t as bad as President George H.W. Bush glancing at his watch in a 1992 debate with Bill Clinton, but it was close. One of Obama’s weaknesses is the perception that he is, at times, aloof and even arrogant. He looked that way Wednesday night, glancing down at his notes and at times smiling condescendingly.
Patronizing an opponent can be effective (see Ronald Reagan’s “There you go again,” comments to Jimmy Carter), but you better make sure the audience sees you really are superior to the other candidate (see Al Gore’s sighs listening to George W. Bush).
Romney offered Obama some openings, but the president either missed them or passed them up.
Several Romney “facts” are questionable. Romney talks about 23 million people who are unemployed. The actual number, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is around 12.7 million.
I’m confused when Romney says he’s going to lower tax rates but the rich won’t pay less – so how do the “job creators” use all that extra money to hire more people? How do you cut taxes by that amount, increase defense spending, leave Social Security alone and only tinker with Medicare (all current Romney positions) and not increase the deficit?
Why did Obama never mention the disdainful comments Romney made about 47 percent of the population or that the stock market has doubled during his first term?
I don’t know. But I know Romney won. So now let’s see if the needle moves in Ohio.
On another question closer to home, Senate President David Williams said he’ll consider a judicial appointment if Gov. Steve Beshear offers it. In Frankfort, the prospect of Williams’ departure from the state Senate is viewed as a done deal.
Conventional wisdom isn’t always correct. But let’s assume it is this time. Conventional wisdom also has it that with Williams out of the way, things will run smoothly for both Beshear and Senate Republicans.
Gambling’s prospects improve, but I wouldn’t bet the farm that it passes. It might not even get out of the Democratic House.
I don’t see anyone of Williams’ skill and stature in the Republican caucus. Whoever succeeds Williams as president will have a much more difficult time herding a fractious group of cats. I’d expect a fight for leadership and a less unified caucus regardless of who wins. That alone presents a skillful governor an opportunity to exploit but what evidence so far suggests Beshear is skillful enough to do it?
Again, I don’t know what will happen but I know it will be fun to watch.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ cnhifrankfort.