Wednesday's debate was a game changer. Mitt Romney exceeded expectations by being aggressive and fearless. President Obama failed because he was disarmed of his most valuable weapons: the presidential bubble, a fawning press, a multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign and a highly scripted event.
It's not a surprise Mr. Obama wasn't up to the challenge. He avoids the White House press corps like the plague, having not given a formal press conference since June. The president instead grants exclusive interviews with softball outlets like "Entertainment Tonight," "Access Hollywood" and People magazine.
"Obama is not used to this," said Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate, on Fox News after the debate. "He's used to being sheltered. He's used to being coddled by the media and by those around him."
Sen. Marco Rubio offered a similar analysis on Fox News. "All Barack Obama's attacks on Mitt Romney are based on myths, things that just aren't true," said the Florida Republican. "This whole thing, 'We have tax credits to send jobs overseas.' Mitt Romney turned to him and said, 'I've been in business for 25 years and I have no idea what you are talking about.' It was a stunning moment. The president had no comeback."
Even Mr. Obama's loudest cheerleaders were forced to concede the obvious defeat. "Does the presidency spoil your ability to beat someone on equal terms?" asked disappointed MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews. "All that 'Hail to the Chief,' does that stop you from knowing what it's like to have a person look you in the eye and say, 'I'm going to take you down. You gonna stop me?' "
Mr. Obama was out of his element. He won't even speak to grade school children without an electronic crutch. Wednesday night's debate setting tested the president's ability to think on his feet, and he failed. He stuttered, paused for long periods between words and left the overall impression of being unprepared and outmatched. Mrs. Palin explained, "Without having that teleprompter in front of him to basically tell him -- feed him -- what to say, that is why you saw this ineptness tonight."
The rhetorical crutches also failed to sustain the president. He tried to deploy his favorite Mediscare tactics, claiming the Romney-Ryan plan will turn Medicare into a voucher system that will raise costs for seniors and eventually destroy the program.
Mr. Romney responded by calmly explaining his plan does not affect anyone over the age of 55; will enable Americans to choose among private plans or the government-run Medicare and will not cost any more for seniors. Then he hit back with a left jab: "The president supports taking $716 billion out of that program."
This challenger's display of competence had the desired impact. For many in the public, this was their first time hearing the Republican presidential candidate unfiltered, and debate-watchers overwhelmingly declared the former Massachusetts governor the winner. Mr. Romney succeeded in both energizing his base and drawing support from independent voters. His challenge will be to continue the momentum in the last weeks of the campaign.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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