Once again we are pleased to have debate analysis from Robert David Sullivan:
My quick analysis before diving into Twitter and the blogosphere:
I suspect that President Obama will get a little jump in the polls over the next few days, but mainly as a reaction to the “Wow, Romney might actually win” narrative rather than in response to tonight’s town hall debate. Obama was surely more engaged than in the first debate, and Romney was more tense (though never bored). However, the framing of the choice between the two candidates remains the same.
As I’ve written before, I think Romney is running on the idea that it couldn’t hurt to let him have a chance running things. American politics is more partisan and more polarized than at any time in living memory, but ideology and philosophy were skimmed over again tonight so as not to scare off the few undecided voters who are left. Obama has better favorability ratings and a small net positive in job approval ratings, but a majority in recent polls still say the country is going “in the wrong direction.” So Romney has not attacked Obama on ideology (I don’t remember the governor saying “conservative” or “liberal” tonight) but as someone who should let someone else have the wheel.
Romney is trying to run as a corrective to the Obama administration, rather than as someone who represents a complete change of direction – though Republican activists are clearly hoping for the latter. (Romney was lucky that his plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program was barely mentioned tonight.) For example, tonight Romney mentioned a “quadrupling” of business regulations under Obama. Is that accurate? It probably doesn’t matter; people have a vague sense that regulations proliferate under Democrats, so Romney implied that we now need a Republican to relieve the pressure on business. Voters think of Democrats as environmentalists, so Romney pledged to step up oil drilling on federal lands as kind of an equal time rule. It’s as if you should change parties in the White House like you rotate your tires.
As in the first debate, Romney promised to change everything and change nothing. His reassurances tonight included “I will not, under any circumstances, reduce the share being paid by the highest-income taxpayers. I will not under any circumstances increase taxes on the middle class.”
Obama vigorously attacked Romney’s plan to lower all marginal tax rates by 20 percent as a “sketchy deal” that makes no mathematical sense (unless it balloons the federal deficit further), surely causing his supporters watching at home to breathe easier. But when moderator Candy Crowley asked what the Republican would do if “the numbers don’t add up” to support the tax cut, Romney snapped, “Of course they add up.”
And that confidence (or arrogance) was the basis of Romney’s argument tonight. “I know what it takes to make an economy work,” he said. Later: “My priority is jobs. I know how to make that happen.” On immigration reform: “I’ll get it done the first year.” And on the differences between himself and George W. Bush: “I’ll crack down on China [trade policies]. President Bush didn’t.”
His last answer of the night included another boast (“I understand what it takes to make a safe and prosperous America”) and another might-as-well-give-me-the-keys argument (“We don’t have to settle for what we’re going through.”).
Will Romney’s brazenness work on the few undecided voters? Obama brought up Romney’s “47 percent” comments at the end of the debate to seed doubts that his opponent has every American’s interest at heart, but the president is probably counting more on getting his supporters enthusiastic enough to vote than on changing minds.