I didn’t plan to watch, but somehow caught most of it. My general thought is that the challenger always has the advantage of attacking the incumbent’s record, and the incumbent is almost always frustrated by the vagueness and unaccountability of the challenger’s plans. Obama won in 2008 by being vague and attacking his predecessor. That’s exactly what Romney did in this debate. You could see the strain this caused on the President—it seems fundamentally unfair to him, as if he doesn’t recognize that the playbook was once his own. If the President has a weakness, it’s in his inability to see himself as a politician, even though he is one, to his core. By denying the reality of his essence, Obama has created a distance between his campaign presence and his political reality, and voters sense this. Clinton was better at this stuff, and is better at this stuff, because he knows exactly who he is.
Yes, Romney was far better in this debate, but Obama will still be reelected, because Romney is still a terrible candidate. But I can’t help but think about how disappointed voters in 2008 would be if we could send a video of today’s debate back to them. They’d see a tired, uninspired man defending a lack of change and broken promises. I’m not saying that this would have changed any of their votes, or even that it should have. Just that they’d be depressed, and rightfully so.