The consensus is that Romney did rather well at his first presidential debate against Obama. For the last few days, I haven’t heard any Republicans complaining about how it would have been better had they just nominated anyone else. There hasn’t been much speculation about how the other candidates would have done, because it would have been so unlikely that they could have done well as Romney on the debate stage. Rick Perry had problems remembering the names of cabinet positions, so I doubt he would have been able to debate policy specifics. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum lacked Romney’s discipline. Michelle Bachmann lacked the accomplishments.
To be fair to the primary also-rans, they likely would not have made the gaffes that Romney had made. There’s no indication that Rick Perry ever told fundraisers that he wasn’t going to get the vote of the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income tax, a category that includes retirees, who tend to be overwhelmingly Republican. Although it’s almost certain that any other presidential nominee would have been involved in entirely different controversies. Newt Gingrich backed Todd Akin the day before Akin could have dropped out of the Senate race. Rick Santorum is opposed to all forms of contraceptives. The AP factchecking editor had to limit coverage of Michelle Bachmann, because she told so many lies. I have covered Rick Perry’s shortcomings in great detail.
Jim Lehrer received a lot of criticism for how he moderated the debate, with suggestions that he should have been called out the candidates on their lies, or been more assertive in keeping them to the schedule. Partisans of the President claim that Romney rolled over Lehrer, and thus had an unfair advantage. However, Obama spoke longer than Romney did, so he would not have been the beneficiary of any strategy to give the candidates equal time. Factcheck called out both President Obama and Governor Romney on exaggerations and lies, so a live version of that would not have changed the results. That said, I wouldn’t mind if in future debates, the last twenty minutes was devoted to candidates explaining themselves to factcheckers.
I was looking forward to Saturday Night Live‘s take on the debate, but it wasn’t that impressive. It seemed as if their hearts weren’t in it. The sequence in which Jay Pharoah’s President Obama started suffering the effects of altitude poisoning was funny, but they weren’t poking fun at the lackluster performance as much as at Al Gore’s desperate justification for why the President did so poorly. There was more of an effort to explain Obama’s performance, than to show what it was like.
The debate will be the cover story for The New Yorker, with artist Barry Blitt referencing Clint Eastwood’s speech to the Republican National Convention. The success of the cover seems to have redeemed Eastwood’s odd speech, although it was accidental on his part. Eastwood’s point with using the empty chair wasn’t to suggest that President Obama’s been absent as a leader. He was just trying to have a hypothetical conversation with President Obama. A few conservative groups picked up on the invisible chair as suggesting a dereliction of duty. And Democrats watching the debate would rather been happier with Eastwood’s version of Obama (who seemed willing to use profanities when calling out Romney on changes in position) as opposed to the guy who showed up.