Look: you know how much I love the guy, and you know how much of a high information viewer I am, and I can see the logic of some of Obama's meandering, weak, professorial arguments. But this was a disaster for the president for the key people he needs to reach, and his effete, wonkish lectures may have jolted a lot of independents into giving Romney a second look.
Obama looked tired, even bored; he kept looking down; he had no crisp statements of passion or argument; he wasn't there. He was entirely defensive, which may have been the strategy. But it was the wrong strategy. At the wrong moment.
The person with authority on that stage was Romney - offered it by one of the lamest moderators ever, and seized with relish. This was Romney the salesman. And my gut tells me he sold a few voters on a change tonight. It's beyond depressing. But it's true.
I was live-blogging last night (you can see that below this post) and so I really didn't concentrate on the body language and mannerisms of the candidates as much as the words. I've since had a chance to see a few clips of the debate and the body language was crucial. Sullivan's description is pretty much spot-on -- it was evident from body language that Romney was significantly more engaged than the president was.
In some respects, I almost wonder if Obama really doesn't want the job any more. He didn't look at his watch a la George H. W. Bush, but there was a bit of that in his performance. While Obama was mired in details, I've never thought that he enjoys delving into them that much. And it's somewhat amusing to see the guy who campaigned in 2008 on Hope and Change demanding specificity this time. But there you are.
The other problem is this -- I think that the Praetorian Guard that surrounds Obama hurt him in last night's debate, since it wasn't there. Obama isn't used to being challenged directly on his assertions and yesterday he didn't have anyone running interference for him. Romney was polite but he put a lot of arguments back in the president's face. In his own way, Romney is a pretty ruthless dude and on second viewing you could see how he took control of things in large ways and small. The one line that Romney uncorked that will do him the most good concerned Solyndra and green energy. I don't have the exact quote, but it was something like "you don't pick the winners and losers, you just pick the losers." There are a fair number of low information voters who may not know about Solyndra, but if they find out it won't be helpful to the president.
Did yesterday move the needle for Romney? Perhaps. The one thing that changed is this -- Romney wasn't much like the Gordon Gekko/cyborg persona that you've seen in caricatures and Obama television ads. He's a sharp, sharp man and he looked the part last night. Obama still has some significant advantages on his side, but he needs to do better in the next debate. Most of all, Obama needs to tell the American people why he wants the job again. He didn't do that last night and it seems to have cost him.