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Obama looked the failed president that he is page 2
Charles Krauthammer's op-ed column on the first Obama-Romney debate. Advantage: Romney.

Date published: 10/7/2012

continued

His success in doing this against a flummoxed Obama does more than rally the conservative base. It may affect waverers--disappointed 2008 Obama supporters waiting for a reason to jump. They watch Romney in this debate and ask: Is this the clueless, selfish, out-of-touch guy we've been hearing about from the ads and from the mainstream media?

And then they see Obama--detached, meandering, unsure. Can this be the hip, cool, in-control guy his acolytes and the media have been telling us about?

Obama was undone on Wednesday in part by his dismissive arrogance. You could see him thinking annoyedly: "Why do I have to be onstage with this clod, when I've gone toe-to-toe with Putin?" (And lost every round, I'd say. But that's not how Obama sees it.)

Obama never even pulled out his best weapon, the 47 percent. Not once. That's called sitting on a lead, lazily and smugly. I wager he mentions it in the next debate, more than once--and likely in his kickoff.

On the other hand, Obama just isn't that good. Not without a teleprompter. He's not even that good at news conferences--a venue in which he's still in charge, choosing among questioners and controlling the timing of his own answers.

By the end of the debate, Obama looked small, uncertain. It was Romney who had the presidential look.

Re-election campaigns after a failed presidential term--so failed that Obama barely even bothers to make the case, preferring to blame everything on his predecessor--hinge almost entirely on whether the challenger can meet the threshold of acceptability. Romney crossed the threshold Wednesday night.

Reagan won his election (Carter was actually ahead at the time) when he defused his caricature as some wild, extreme, warmongering cowboy. In his debate with Carter, he was affable, avuncular, and reasonable. That's why with a single aw-shucks line, "There you go again," the election was over.

Romney had to show something a little different: That he is not the clumsy, out-of-touch plutocrat that the paid Obama ads and the unpaid media have portrayed him to be. He did, decisively.

That's why MSNBC is on suicide watch. Why the polls show that, by a margin of at least two-to-one, voters overwhelmingly gave the debate to Romney.

And he won big in an unusual way. This could be the only presidential debate ever won so definitively in the absence of some obvious and ruinous gaffe, like Gerald Ford's "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe."

Romney by two touchdowns.

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.


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