Quite a bit of the conservative commentariat has been expressing disappointment with Mitt Romney's debate performance last night, noting his palpable reticence to tangle with President Obama over, say, the details of Benghazi or to fight back against the President's repeated jabs. Having watched the same debate in its entirety that everyone else did, my reaction was very far from disappointment.
I was elated, from start to finish.
But let me back up and give the broad overview. From the start it was obvious that both men know the true state of the race. Mitt Romney is winning this election campaign. The President's feisty assertiveness made it clear that he understands this. Time and time again he was on the attack, trying to rattle Romney into an awkward response, a slip of the tongue, a loss of temper, a gaffe of any sort whatsoever. Halfway through the debate, at a moment when the President was tearing into Romney for alleged inconsistencies, my wife turned to me and said: "Look at Romney. He is just so calm." And I responded: "That is what unflappable looks like." He was, indeed, unflappable. He maintained a completely calm demeanor. His appearance could not have looked more Presidential had he been on a movie set with a director scripting every ounce of body language. Romney has an amazing discipline of restraining his tongue and maintaining his composure. Time and time again there was a witty reply waiting to be launched, and conservative pundits were aching to have it said, and Romney simply ignored the jab and went on about his business. Charles Krauthammer observed that he would have taken a baseball bat to Obama time and again, but then noted: "That's why I've never held elective office, and Mitt Romney has."
Since Charles brought up baseball, I'll use it as an analogy. Mitt Romney is winning and it is late in the game. In baseball, the winning team plays a "no doubles" defense. The outfielders play very deep, back towards the wall, in order to keep any balls in front of them. Why do they do this? Because they need to avoid game-changing hits. A single here, a little Texas-league flare there, are not likely to change the outcome of the game. Doubles hammered into the gap? Those are maximal-damage kinds of hits, and teams winning in late innings try, above all, to minimize those. Mitt Romney played a brilliant no-doubles defense last night. For all the President's poking, prodding, jabbing, and condescending mockery (e.g., "We have these things called 'aircraft carriers,' and planes can land on them. We have boats that go under water called 'submarines') he got nowhere. He wanted doubles hammered into the gap, and all he got were routine ground balls recorded for easy outs. All night long.
Mitt Romney looked like the President, and the President looked like a challenger all night. Who cares if Romney refused to descend into the weeds and engage in a petty tit-for-tat? By stifling every attempt by Obama at a momentum-shifting moment, Romney won. Period.
Am I crazy? Is it just me? Or is it a horrible sound listening to the President talk about how what we really need is some "nation building" right here at home? Who, exactly, has been the President for the past four years?
Am I crazy? Is it just me? Or is it a horrible sound listening to a debate on foreign policy and listening to the President talk about hiring teachers and "investing" in green energy? Really? Wind mills? Electric cars? Solar panels? That is still all you have, Mr. President?
Am I crazy? Is it just me? Or is it a horrible sound listening to the President say that our Navy equipment and personnel are the equivalent of antiquated horses and bayonets? No world empire has ever survived without having the most overwhelming global naval presence. This is simply historical fact. As goes the Navy, so goes the nation. Horses and bayonets? Hardly. Two-thirds of the surface of the earth is covered by water, and global powers can only--and I do mean only--project their power and protect trade routes and waterways, by being the biggest fish in the sea. The President's "Nothing to worry about here" with respect to having a 1916-sized Navy ought to strike us as patently irresponsible.
I could go on all day, but just two more observations.
First, Mitt Romney was not all about demeanor. His command of the details was impressive. Several times he gratuitously threw in very fine details about the global situation that impressed me. His answer on whether it is time to "divorce" Pakistan was simply outstanding. The answer of a mature, clear-thinking man. His answer was, No. Under no circumstances can we allow Pakistan, home to 100+ nuclear warheads, descend into chaos.
Second, the stand-out moment in the debate, the one that rang in my ears for a long time afterwards, was Romney's take-down of Obama's "Apology Tour." "You visited Egypt. You visited Saudi Arabia. You didn't visit Israel. And they noticed." "And they noticed." That was the line of the night, in my opinion. When Obama laughed off the "Apology Tour" attack and called it a lie, Romney came back forcefully and quoted the President's own words: that we had "dictated" to other nations. No, he said, "We liberate nations from dictators."
And people say Obama won on "points." Hard to win on points when you're unconscious on the mat. That was a knockout punch.
The Romney momentum will continue unabated. Obama's electoral "firewall" is shrinking. He's already out of Florida. He's out of North Carolina. After insulting everyone serving in the Navy, Virginia is hopeless for him. Ohio only looks good for him if you assume he gets a 2008-level turnout, a complete impossibility. After last night, I will not be surprised to see Romney take Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Colorado. In other words: electoral landslide.
President Obama should start praying for a miracle. Or start packing.