Pneumatic slab of moist cardboard Willard Mitt Romney was the clear winner in Wednesday night's debate. Few Obama supporters, save delusional hacks like Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, are even denying it. The former Massachusetts governor was aggressive, impatient, armed with facts, and even -- dare I say -- passionate?
Displaying his best I-need-to-fart look, Romney bested Obama in vigor and prideful assertion (Obama looked bored, as if he had conceded defeat before the debate even began). The Mighty Mormon even managed to assume the moderate identity that he renounced during the primaries. This may not stand up to the Democrats' tried-and-true Etch-a-Sketch attack, but it proved an effective debate tactic nonetheless.
The facts of Romney's arguments will be combed through in coming days, and even if they are all more or less true (which is extremely unlikely), Romney still lost in one crucial area: likability.
I'll admit, the man made a few good points that had me second-guessing some of Obama's policies and ambitions for a second term. I was most distressed by the president's waving off of Romney's assertion that his tax plan unfairly burdens small- to mid-sized businesses, many of which employ a large swath of the American public. It is true that small companies employ roughly half of the private sector, and their financial vitality is imperative for growing the sector and creating jobs. But that didn't stop me from wanting to punch Old Man Willard in the face. It's that smug, superficial, sociopathic smile of his that gets to me, and I know I'm not alone. More importantly, that detestability was on full display in Denver. He stuttered and jumped over his words to fit in his trove of nauseating "zingers," he twitched and fidgeted and bullied Jim Lehrer, he demanded the last word and smiled like an ass after every spiel. Basically, he displayed the selfish petulance of a child who's only now beginning to master the appeal, "use your words."
You may be thinking, is likability that important? Policy wonks and party zealots will tell you that it's not, but to the average American electorate it is. Very much so. The party people are firmly embedded with their candidates, and they have been for some time. So it's really only up to the independents -- those moderate, undecided Joes with whom Romney tried to align himself last night, albeit with a rather flaky Etch-a-Sketch.
But from where I stand, it's hard to imagine Romney culling any sort of likability points from this demographic. You have to try -- really hard -- to like Mitt Romney, even if you're a Republican (as seen in '08 and this year's primaries). So it's especially difficult to imagine moderates coming around to Romney as a likable, relatable figure. And last night's debate did nothing to help him. In fact, I believe it worked against him.