Our View: Going big

Posted: October 5, 2012

Mired in the maw of despair, conservatives may now have the champion they have long desired. And who this country has long needed.

For weeks, a seemingly endless period during which his presidential campaign and the nation’s future appeared intertwined in gloom, conservatives pleaded with Mitt Romney to “go big,” to dispense with the small-ball attack and carry the assault directly to President Obama and his ruinous statist agenda.

On Wednesday night in Denver, in the first of three presidential debates, Mr. Romney did so — at long last — and in demonstrably conservative fashion.

And because he did, Mr. Romney left Denver looking like a president — and left conservatives feeling as high as the Mile-High City.

When scoring these debates, pundits can scarcely resist the sports analogy, however time-worn or cliched. But on Wednesday night, such comparisons worked. This debate had all the trappings of a one-sided prizefight — Mr. Romney bolting from his corner and, in the initial clinches, landing haymaker after haymaker. The president never recovered.

A difference: Unlike prizefights, presidential debates are obliged to go the distance. Moderator Jim Lehrer could not stop the pounding and declare a TKO, even though at one point Mr. Obama all but tossed in the towel, pleading with Mr. Lehrer to move on to the “next topic.”

That’s how lopsided it was. For those scoring at home, or anywhere, Mr. Romney won, and convincingly so.

These events are not so much debates as they are presentations — especially for the challenger, who must seize the opportunity to make the case for his candidacy while reminding viewers of the incumbent’s deficiencies, which in this instance are myriad.

Mr. Romney performed this task masterfully. He was aggressive, but not overly so. He was courtly, almost benevolent, even as he relentlessly pressed the president on his serial dishonesty — e.g., his insistence the Romney tax plan featured a “$5 trillion tax cut.”

In riposte, Mr. Romney displayed a rare economy with words, speaking in simple, declarative sentences: “Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate.” And yet he parried each Obama thrust not with a single observation, but with two- and three-point combinations, like any able counterpuncher. Finally, he was not afraid to be repetitive; witness, for instance, his frequent references to job creation and, in the discussion of health care, to that “unelected” board charged with oversight of ObamaCare.

What’s more, Mr. Romney marshaled his facts superbly without overwhelming the viewer. Score one for “debate prep”: Who knew Mr. Obama had “invested” $90 billion in green energy initiatives — so many of which, Mr. Romney seamlessly pointed out, ended up “losers.”

Though the debate boasted no lines singularly memorable — nary a “There you go again” or “I paid for this microphone” — one exchange was notable for its summary qualities. And that came when Mr. Romney wondered how this nation could be running repeated trillion-dollar deficits if Mr. Obama had, as he maintains, cut spending by $4 trillion.

Through such observations, Mr. Romney piled up point after point. The cumulative effect of his presentation was withering.

In debates that can, for many viewers, careen off the tracks into the Land of Wonkiness, atmospherics — mien, countenance, body language, etc. — count. For many, we suspect, differences in demeanor will be the lasting residual impression.

Mr. Romney looked energized — eager not just for this fray, but eager, it seems, to confront and embrace the challenges facing this country. This man sounds like he really wants to be president — which, given the condition of this country’s economy in the wake of Obama-nomics, could prove a daunting, even thankless, job.

On the other hand, Mr. Obama, from the git-go, looked as if he didn’t want to be there — and, once the verbal punches started landing, looked as if he wanted out. When he wasn’t staring at his lectern, his lips were pursed in a detached smirk. Millions, perhaps for the first time, saw Barack Obama — a poorly prepared, listless Barack Obama — when things were not going his way. It was not an edifying sight.

To be sure, one virtuoso performance doth not an election make. Elections are notwon on the debate stage.

Nonetheless, 36 hours removed from Denver, the dynamics of this race have changed. Mitt Romney’s performance pumped new life into a dispirited campaign.

Two more debates remain and, it’s safe to say, Mr. Obama will be more energized, more engaged, at the next meeting, Oct. 16 on Long Island. But here’s the thing: His record, lamentably cobbled over the last four years, will not have changed.