New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was right. While everyone else was downplaying expectations for both sides in advance of Wednesday night’s presidential debate, Christie boldly predicted that Republican nominee Mitt Romney would outshine President Obama.
“This whole race is going to be turned upside down come Thursday morning,” Christie said Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
By Thursday morning, the race had indeed been turned upside down. Prior to the debate, the Romney campaign had been struggling to find its voice. But in its aftermath, everyone was wondering what had happened to the vaunted public speaking skills of President Obama.
“Where was Obama tonight?” left-wing MSNBC host Chris Matthews asked in a post-debate discussion on his network. Apparently, Matthews’ leg is no longer tingling with excitement over an Obama candidacy.
“This is what happens when u pick John Kerry as your debate coach,” liberal filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted.
“President Obama came in, he wanted to have a conversation,” former Democratic presidential adviser James Carville said on CNN. “It takes two people to have a conversation. Mitt Romney came in with a chainsaw. He’s trying to talk to a chainsaw.”
Throughout the debate, Romney was aggressive without being offensive, making his points and countering Obama’s characterizations of his positions. Obama, in contrast, seemed flat-footed and on the defensive.
Romney was able to counter effectively Democratic accusations that he is the candidate who will favor the wealthy to the detriment of the middle class. Romney repeatedly rejected Obama’s insistence that he is seeking tax cuts that would cost $5 trillion in revenues and increase the tax burden on middle-class citizens.
“Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate,” Romney said, noting that Obama’s plan to allow previous tax cuts to expire would hurt small businesses and their ability to add jobs.
Romney slammed Obama on his administration’s economic performance, which he said has resulted in higher prices, slow economic growth and millions out of work.
Perhaps Romney’s best moment came when Obama played one of the Democrats’ strongest cards in the race: the fact that the national health care plan known as “Obamacare” that Romney vows to repeal is quite similar to the state health plan Romney instituted in Massachusetts. Romney countered that his plan passed almost without opposition from a strongly Democratic Massachusetts legislature while Obama’s plan was rammed through Congress without a single Republican vote in support.
Romney even got in a gracious laugh line at the start of the debate. Congratulating the Obamas on their 20th anniversary, Romney said, “I’m sure this is the most romantic place you could imagine, here with me.”
There are two more presidential debates to follow this month, as well as a vice-presidential debate next week. It is unlikely that these debates will cause any committed Romney or Obama supporters to alter their positions. The debates, however, will help those estimated 10 to 15 percent of Americans who are currently undecided make up their minds.
Romney, in his performance Wednesday night, made a strong case to those undecided voters for why he is the right man for the job.