10/05/2012 08:18 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Things I Learned From The First Presidential Debate


The 2012 U.S. presidential campaign was turned upside down by Mitt Romney's victory in last night's debate in Denver. Here's where the old debate coach thinks the election strands now.

1. Obama's Bipartisan Trope Is Now Shattered.
Obama has a real rhetorical problem that Romney started to expose Wednesday night. Obama has emphasized ad nauseam that he wanted to work with Republicans in Congress on the debt, on jobs, and so on, but they didn't want to work with him. In addition, according to the President, that's why he couldn't get bipartisan consensus on things like ObamaCare and the stimulus.

Meanwhile, Romney is touting that as a Republican Governor of Massachusetts he was able to pass meaningful legislation on health care, taxes, education, and much more with a legislature that was 87% Democrat. Far more of an imbalance than Barack Obama has had to face with House Republicans. In other words, somehow, by dint of personality and/or approach, Romney achieved bipartisan consensus, while Barack Obama did not. This is an effective argument for Romney because the more that Obama argues that Republicans blocked his plans, the more he makes Romney's argument that the President lacks the political chops to get things done in Washington.

You see, the GOP arduously, even viciously, defended their turf during the Clinton years (as the Democrats did during the G.W. Bush years), but still Bill Clinton managed to achieve bipartisan consensus on the deficit, on welfare reform, on much more. That's a tribute to Bill Clinton, who achieved several of bipartisan victories when Republicans controlled the House. Clearly there is something palpably different between Bill Clinton and Mitt Romney on the one hand and Barack Obama on the other. And Romney is exploiting that. The more Obama blames, the more he looks like the guy who simply can't get anything done on a bipartisan basis.

And this is precisely why Obama's Blame the Republicans strategy is falling flat. Americans like winners. They want results. They really don't care how the policy sausage is made. They just want it made. And they certainly find the blame game weak, distasteful, and unbecoming of a true leader. Obama is getting crushed on this head. The more he blames, the more he unwittingly makes the case why he is NOT the bipartisan leader the country thought it elected four years ago. Excuses are not going to cut it anymore. CEO Romney laid down that marker tonight.

2. Obama Is AWOL On Jobs.
Obama simply did not come out with, or even defend, a jobs plan Wednesday night. We simply do not know what the President would do about jobs in his second term. We know he is happy to defend ObamaCare. We know he wants to spend more on education (which might make some industrious folks more qualified for jobs over the long-term), but he has got nothing specific on jobs in the interim.

Meanwhile, Romney kept pivoting back to two key goals: more jobs and rising middle class income. The latter point is the key differentiator. And Romney needs to riff on this in the month ahead. Because Obama has said previously that he could easily create more jobs IF those stingy, obstreperous Republicans would just let him spend more federal money. However, that feeds precisely into Romney's jobs narrative. That is, if the private sector creates those jobs, you shrink the size of government, and, thus, reduce the crippling debt (and improve the U.S. credit rating), while INCREASING take-home pay and thus taxable income. Obama wants to tax a smaller and smaller income pie. This is a rock-solid argument for Romney. And he jabbed the President repeatedly on this point Wednesday night. Obama has to do a better job on the jobs question, or he will cede the issue to Romney.

3. The Obama Lies Are Being Exposed.
The Obama whopper that one gets a tax break for shipping jobs overseas is just not true. Obama was called on it Wednesday night. And he had no rejoinder. Because it is false. The Obama spin machine was in force after the debate once again telling the lie that Romney plans to decrease the amount of tax that wealthy Americans pay while increasing middle income taxes. It simply isn't true. The amount of tax that the rich actually pay will likely go up in the net under Romney because he prioritizes closing their sundry loopholes first. And there is zero evidence that Romney overtly plans to increase taxes on the middle tax.

Moreover, the Obama spin-doctors continue to say that Romney will increase the deficit by five trillion dollars, but they are not even referencing a plan Romney has proposed. It's just not true. They are on much stronger turf when they question how Romney can pay for a massive, and unnecessary, increase in military spending. Obama needs to be much more adamant on that point.

Finally, the biggest lie of all -- that straight edge Romney is some Mormon version of Gordon Gecko -- was shown to be a joke. That lie could be the most damaging of all, as the country finally warms to the former Massachusetts Governor.

4. This Is By No Means Over.
I am sure that Obama will come back stronger in a second debate. This election will remain tight. Never underestimate the power of a populist President to pander to the worst instincts of the easily bamboozled masses. Which is why it is important to look past the President's symbolic tropes -- eliminating tax breaks for oil companies and private jet owners, neither of which will make a dent in the deficit -- and get to the meat. Romney started that process Wednesday night. Slowly, but surely, the carefully crafted Obama mystique is being deconstructed for all to see.

5. Romney Needs to Carry Over The Debate Momentum to the Campaign Operation Or His Victory Will Be For Naught.
Wednesday night proved that Romney the candidate is far better than his campaign to date. And clearly Obama the candidate is far worse than his campaign to date, which has achieved the impossible: keeping a President with above 8.1% unemployment still in the running. That is a true miracle of disinformation, lies, and spin.

Bravo to Team Obama. You got the President as far as you possibly could on a largely indefensible jobs, GDP, deficit, and income record. Now the President himself must do the heavy lifting. That is where Team Obama is going to have some real trouble.

This is because in the week ahead about 5% of the electorate might slowly shift towards Romney, as they start to perceive the former Governor as the qualified President he clearly is. You see, the self-centered, insensitive, outsourcing, Swiss Bank account, privileged, out-of-touch Romney narrative that David Axelrod and his immoral Svengalis at Team Obama have painted does not square with the caring, sensitive, decent and pragmatic Mitt Romney that TV viewers saw on Wednesday night.

The jig is up. Now the President actually has to have a campaign narrative that goes beyond ad hominem demonizing and populist pandering.

Good luck with that.