On last night’s presidential debates: Mitt Romney clearly did a better job (“won”, if you’re keeping score) against a President Obama who seemed somewhat tired and defensive. Although mostly still in attack mode, Romney did talk some about his own plans (although still really vague on details), and seemed to make a credible appeal to the all-important independent voters.
However, in doing so, he also presented a glaring contrast to the role of the right-wing, thoroughly conservative ideologue that he was obliged to play during the Republican primaries in order to win the nomination. It’s as if he’s saying, “You know all that crazy stuff I said during the primaries? Eh, let’s just pretend that never happened, shall we?” It is guaranteed that Obama’s campaign staff will not be that obliging – I assume they’re busy right now making ads comparing Romney last night with Romney 6 months ago – and even more problematically for him, the Republican base will also have a hard time reconciling the new Romney with the candidate they nominated. They’re not going to vote for Obama, of course, but they might just decide to stay at home.
So bottom line, Romney did a good job, but probably not good enough to be the game changer he needs at this point. And his most fundamental problem is really a structural problem within the Republican party as a whole: The type of candidate who can win the nomination is miles away from one who can actually be elected; and a candidate like Romney who tries to cover both the ideological Republican base and the independent segment opens himself up to being attacked as an opportunistic flip-flopper.
My money is still heavily on Obama in this election. (Also, Jim Lehrer should have stayed in retirement. I mean, seriously, what happened to him?)