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Five Reactions to the First Debate

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From the most ardent Obama supporters on down:

1. He won! (See Al Sharpton): The president successfully employed a rope-a-dope strategy, drawing Romney into making a host of unsustainable assertions re taxes, health care, Medicare, Wall Street regulation, et al. Now the Democrats can feed Romney's statements into ads attacking the fabulist nature of the entire Romney-Republican campaign.

Even worse: Sixty million debate viewers are not going to tune into ads to calculate the accuracy of what they heard during the debate. The initial impression of the thing is all that matters.

2. This is what he meant! (See presidential handlers David Plouffe and David Axelrod): The president was just being cool and polite, but he could easily have pointed out (everyone knows) that of course Romney will increase the deficit by offering tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, Romney doesn't care about those 47 percent of Americans who need help, he is obviously going to destroy Medicare with vouchers, etc.

Even worse: Nobody listens to presidential surrogates, professional communicators whose job it is to express his point of view better than he can.

3. He'll do better next time! (See Rachel Maddow): The president had a bad night. He wasn't prepared to confront a hostile opponent after four years in the Oval Office, and having had no recent debate experience. Now he knows what he has to do, and he'll rise to the challenge.

Even worse: Obama has never been a good debater -- witness his lukewarm performance in his debates with Hillary during the last set of primaries. He tends to bog down in "ums" and to take too long to make -- and to make too indirectly -- his essential points.

4. What's the matter with him! (See the ever-caffeinated Chris Matthews): The president was out to lunch! He missed opportunities time and again either to play up Romney's vulnerabilities (e.g., women, the 47 percent, immigration, Bain) or to confront Romney's misrepresentations (see #2). He looked asleep up there, like he wanted to be somewhere -- anywhere -- else, like he was intimidated!

Even worse: Obama was intimidated; he is no match for Romney as a debater.

5. Romney's right! (Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, Reince Priebus): The conservative case Romney made is so clearly the right one that Obama never stood a chance.

Even worse: There IS nothing worse.