Presidential Debate Reactions: LIVE

Welcome to Pine Tree Politics’ coverage of the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney.

We typically try to cover Maine politics, or how national politics impacts the state of Maine, but obviously with the gravity of a presidential race and the importance  of the debates, I’m making an exception tonight.

I will be treating this as a live blog of the event, updated frequently.  Keep checking back and hitting refresh for my reactions to the debate, as it happens.  Feel free to join in the discussion in the comment section, which I am well known to participate in as well.

Enjoy the debate.

FINAL THOUGHTS:  There is absolutely no doubt that Romney not only won this debate, but did so soundly.  Romney was aggressive, but warm, talked about issues with a level of detail that was unexpected.  The left pundit class is universally panning the president’s performance and giving the night to Romney, including Rachel Maddow and Ed Shultz of MSNBC.  Bill Maher, of all people, said on Twitter:  “Obama made a lot of great points tonight. Unfortunately, most of them were for Romney”.

There really can’t be any denying that this was probably Romney’s best debate performance of his career, and one of the most obvious victories in recent memory by a candidate.

It should be noted that this isn’t exactly unexpected.  Romney has a long history of coming up big, particularly in debates, when his back is against the wall.  This was precisely what Romney needed in this race to get back in the game.

The other winner from tonight was, well, debates.  Tonight was probably as substantive a debate as we have ever had, with two intelligent capable men cordially sparring over ideas and policy without getting personal.  If this is what the campaign had looked like, Americans would be much happier with both choices than they are today.

10:35 PM EST – Debate closed.  Next debate is Biden vs. Ryan.  Obama and Romney shake hands and greet their families.  Romney folks look very, very happy.

10:30 PM EST – Closing remarks by both candidates.  Obama studdered and stumbled, and Romney had a generic statement.  No points really scored there.

10:28 PM EST – Romney really let the president have it on getting things done with bipartisanship.  Not only did he point out the massive failure of the president to reach across the aisle to work with the other party, but he highlighted his own record as Governor of Massachusetts where he had to work with a Democratic legislature that was composed of more than 80% Democrats.  Pretty powerful point for an audience who has seen four years of Obama’s lack of consensus governing.

10:25 PM EST - My favorite thing about this debate?  Neither candidate seems to have come armed with lame, corny one liner zingers they wanted to use as a “debate moment”.  No one tried to repeat “there you go again” like Sarah Palin did so annoyingly in 2008… no one had something in the hopper that they tried to force awkwardly into the debate, and for that I thank them both.

10:22 PM EST – Small point, but important one.  The president just said, “I genuinely believe that Governor Romney cares about education.”  This is something that both candidates should do a hell of a lot more of, and would make many people less jaded about politics.  If Obama’s television ads had that tone, I wouldn’t turn the TV off so frequently.

10:20 PM EST – Education is a minefield for the president.  Romney’s education answer is something that many independent voters agree with.  Not only that, he talked about it in terms of wanting to help people, talked about the poor and people with special needs.

Anyone who sees tonight’s debate and still honestly believes Mitt Romney is a cold, vapid corporate raider who loves the upper crust and can’t relate to middle America is wrong.

10:18 PM EST - “The proof of that” is the strongest moment of the debate so far. Masterful on Romney’s part.  Really hit that contrast hard.

10:16 PM EST – Romney just offered a compelling and very (very) substantial argument for his supposed “lack of detail” about his “plans” once elected.  He says that laying out goals and principles is key, but laying down a plan and saying “this is it” is detrimental.  Goals and principles allow flexibility that can get people to work for consensus and work together.

And indeed, specific plans are almost always tossed aside after the election ANYWAY.  Remember in 2008 when President Obama snidely dismissed the idea of including an individual mandate in his health care reform plan?  I sure do.  What was in the law when actually passed?  Yup, a mandate.

Romney has really brought the rain in terms of detail and specific policy critiques and ideas of his own tonight.  Anyone who still thinks he is being vague because he is bereft of ideas is hopeless.

“That vision thing” as the first President Bush once described it, is exactly what Romney is talking about.  Ideas, goals, and principles that you want to achieve, and then working with people to achieve them through compromise.  I think this is the most important point of the night, and it took something that was hurting Romney before, and may have helped him significantly.

10:08 PM EST – Romney’s second crack at healthcare is much stronger.  His expertise in the healthcare industry from his time as Massachusetts governor is showing and he is more comfortable now on the subject.

10:06 PM EST – Topics go to health care, which is a dangerous subject for Romney, but also for the president.  The president, laughably, makes the case that Obamacare was a mechanism to “take on” the insurance companies, despite the fact that Obamacare was the biggest giveaway to the insurance companies in the history of this country.  Legally requiring citizens to purchase insurance from insurers under threat of penalty guarantees millions of new customers.  Or else.

Romney’s answer was tepid.  He is worried about this subject, but he shouldn’t be.  He should directly challenge the “one size fits all” solution the president chose.  He should also continue to attack the president over the partisanship of his plan.

10:01 PM EST – Do you think Romney and Obama coordinated their ties tonight?  The red and blue choices are almost comical, if you think about it.

9:58 PM EST – Interesting programming note.  Jim Lehrer is doing a great job moderating this debate.  He is letting the two candidates spar and is taking a hands off approach.  We will never get Lincoln-Douglas debates again, but the candidates controlling the conversation and directly responding to each other without a heavy hand is a big deal.

9:54 PM EST - Taking a look at the media reaction to this debate so far, and the narrative is already being written about the debate.  Quote the Washington Post’s Chris Cilliza “I do think the Obama demeanor – he looks annoyed/grim – is not good for him.”  Agreed.  The president has been grimacing, sighing, and looks pissed off.  Romney clearly getting to him.

9:42 PM EST – Say what you want about Obama and Romney, but I think we can all agree that this debate is much better than anything we have watched since probably the debates in 1992.  I don’t like the president, obviously, and many people don’t like Romney, but I think it is very nice to finally have two exceptionally intelligent human beings debate each other.  No one should be embarrassed to be a member of either party tonight (so far).  As somebody who used to wince at my candidate in debates in previous years (something Democrats did as well in some years), this is nice.

9:40 PM EST – Romney is taking the president to task on what should be a strength of the president’s – oil subsidies.  Pointed out that Obama’s subsidies to his green energy friends amounted to about a half century of oil and gas subsidies, which mostly go to smaller operations like drillers.

9:33 PM EST – The president is getting VERY annoyed.  Heard an exasperated sigh under his breath, perturbed look on his face.  Romney’s getting to him.

9:32 PM EST – Probably the strongest argument Romney could make.  Using the president’s promises from his first run back to haunt him.  “You said you were going to halve the deficit, and you didn’t.  You grew it.”  Then really hammers Obama on tax increases, which the president just advocated for by using the euphemism “revenue”.

9:30 PM EST – The president just began his “I inherited this mess” defense.  DRINK.  This is a major opportunity for Romney to really hammer the president.  Some version of, “Mr. President, that’s why we elected you.  We gave you four years.  And by every measurable evaluation of the economy you have failed.”

9:27 PM EST – Romney needs to be careful of moderating the moderator.  He doesn’t come off well when he does that.  But that said, his responses to the president are much sharper and substantive than the fluff and talky-pointy stuff that President Obama has come up with so far.

9:22 PM EST – Obama makes a joke about Trump “not thinking of himself as small… anything”.  When the audience has been told to stay dead silent, the rimshot style jokes like that don’t work.  Felt weird watching it.

9:18 PM EST – President is warming up a little bit as he goes on the attack about the “5 trillion dollar tax cut”.  Romney’s first interruption of the moderator, but it came off more or less well as he is talking specifics about his response.  Gets into the weeds about “studies” which probably lost a few people, but then brings it back to the issue.

9:12 PM EST - Romney uses the word “crush” relating to the middle class, a nod to Joe Biden’s comments from the other day.  Repeats it.  Repeats it again.  Directly challenges the president’s record, which is the first firework of the night, albeit with tepid sparks.  So far, Romney is sharper, but the president is doing fine.

9:10 PM EST – Jim Lehrer attempts to start some fireworks by asking the president to “directly respond” to Romney’s rebuttal of Obama’s “top down” accusation.  Obama takes a pass, starts talking about “investments” and Race To The Top.  First appearance of “ship jobs overseas”.  Drink.

9:07 PM EST – Mitt cracks a relatively funny joke about spending President Obama’s anniversary “with me”, then goes directly into a heart string story.  Now Romney is leaning on his “five point plan”, obviously meant to rebut the idea that he is not running on ideas.  Nothing particularly new, but most of Romney’s commercials do not feature him making the case himself, so this may *sound* new to the audience who doesn’t pay attention to things as much as the rest of us.

9:04 PM EST – Softball question on differences between candidates starts things off.  President Obama uses a minute to metaphorically smooch with his wife, then frames the debate the same way he has for months.  Nothing new from the president.

9:02 PM EST – Debate starting.  Tonight’s debate is on domestic issues.

9:00 PM EST – The endless vamping of the media prior to the debate is just sad and pathetic to watch.  Very clear they are just killing time, waiting for it to start.  Such insightful analysis as “Both men need to do well tonight” and “these men are going to directly challenge each other tonight” are repeated endlessly.

8:51 PM EST – Waiting for the debate to start.  Typical pre-debate spin happening on all the channels.  I’m watching the debate by going through MSNBC, Fox News and CNN, just to see the contrasting coverage.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.