What a difference!
Obama is back. Tonight he bore no resemblance to his doppelgänger who nodded through the first debate. The President came out swinging. He was combative, aggressive and quick-thinking on his feet. With no hesitation, he rebutted Romney’s posturing and accusations with facts: what he’d actually done, actually said. This time, Obama looked more natural, though he rarely smiled. Romney’s smile was frozen on his face, no matter what Obama said; Obama focused his gaze on Romney and you could see the wheels turning in his head as he was formulating a response. It was perfectly clear that not only do they not like each other, they don’t even respect each other. This was not a friendly match.
The pivotal moment: Romney was circling for the kill, clearly believing that he was laying a fatal trap for Obama and not realizing that he was setting one for himself. Romney trumpeted what he called the President’s failure to characterize the Benghazi attack as terrorism until two weeks after the event. Here’s Alex Pareene’s description of the exchange:
Obama clearly prepared for his Libya response. Romney makes a dumb mistake: Obama says he spoke in the Rose Garden after the attack and called it an act of terror. Romney says “no you didn’t.” Obama says “get the transcript.” Crowley says “he did.” THE AUDIENCE APPLAUDS CROWLEY LIVE FACT-CHECKING ROMNEY. Like, twice. They applaud twice. Romney stutters through the rest of his response, and it doesn’t matter what he says: He just got fucking destroyed. By the audience, basically.
Some other zingers:
Romney: I have a five-point plan to create 12 million new jobs in four years.
Obama: Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules.
Moderator Candy Crawley asked Romney why he has changed his position [on gun control] since he was governor.
Obama: Governor Romney was for an assault weapons ban before he was against it. He said the reason he changed his mind was in part because he was seeking the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.
Obama was confident and self-possessed. Answering Romney’s charge of deception on Benghazi:
I’m the president, and I’m always responsible. And that’s why nobody’s more interested in finding out exactly what happened…. The suggestion that anyone on my team— the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador— anyone on my team would play politics or mislead when we lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as President, that’s not what I do as Commander-in-Chief.
The President had the last word. He waited until then, when Romney couldn’t respond, to mention the 47 percent. “Romney doesn’t care about them. I want to fight for them, because if they succeed, the country succeeds.”
The polls will tell in a few days how much lost ground the President retook.