Scores: Obama 79 | Romney 75
Judge: Ray D’Cruz
This was a relatively close debate with both speakers facing off in a robust exchange. There was little to choose from the speakers in terms of style with both choosing an overtly aggressive manner and offering little variation. The format contributed to the closeness too, with short response times providing few opportunities for proper discernment and the speaker’s not helping by presenting shopping lists of ideas. However, Governor Romney’s vagueness on important issues ultimately counted against him – and President Obama won the debate.
The Governor was particularly vague on tax policy. When questioned directly about the lack of detail on his promise to close tax loopholes, Romney refused to be specific. Surely he knew this was coming, if not from the questioner then from his opponent or the moderator. But he offered limp reassurance that middle class deductions would be retained, at one point saying “one way of doing that would be say everybody gets — I’ll pick a number — $25,000 of deductions and credits, and you can decide which ones to use.” The President hurt the Governor in the exchange that followed, tallying his expenditure and drawing conclusions about the consequences. Romney could not offer a substantive defence.
Similarly on equal rights for women, while Obama’s focus was on specific policy and the Republican position, Romney offered a vague argument about his commitment to employing women and flexible work practices in his Massachusetts administration. On immigration, President Obama was able to focus on inconsistencies in Governor Romney’s position. Again, it made the Governor look vague at best. Obama did what he hadn’t done in the previous debate and invoked stated positions from the Republican primary race that were now at odds with the position of Governor Romney in the presidential campaign.
A number of the other issues seemed about even: the Libya discussion was messy and unsatisfying, as was the debate on guns. Energy production was also a messy discussion, though the follow up question of the moderator – gas prices – may have helped to reframe the discussion in the Governor’s favour. Outsourcing also was not decisive, though Romney’s China attacks seemed shrill and he even managed to flag the prospect of a tariff war.
Governor Romney’s best moment came on his toughest question: where he was asked to explain the differences between himself and President George W. Bush. He did a good job and turned it into a clever restatement of his pitch. This corresponded to Obama’s poorest moment in the debate, where instead of drawing Romney and Bush together in what could have been a compelling story about economic collapse, he got sidetracked on Romney’s China interests. At times the President’s personal attacks lacked subtlety, though his close – with the 47% noted – brought things together well.
Obama’s manner was certainly more energetic in this debate. We got better body language – indeed we almost got body contact! Romney maintained his aggressive and energetic approach from the first debate. In the end, Romney’s vagueness at important moments in the debate counted, particularly on the central campaign issue of tax.