The first sign of how great a recovery Mitt made will come next week in the head-to-head polls, when the nation has absorbed the news that Obama not only got waxed, he came off as man exhausted, weary with the duties of office, who lacks the fire and energy to lead us out of the economic doldrums in which this country finds itself.
Yet even if the national polls find Mitt surging, the polls in the battleground states will have to turn dramatically, as early voting is already taking place in half of the country. And that voting began when it appeared that Obama was coasting to a second term.
Can Ohio, for example, where Mitt has been consistently down by high single digits, be retrieved?
Is Wisconsin just too far a reach?
Perhaps the greatest advance Mitt Romney made in that debate was that, for once, he came off not just as a tough businessman and resolute budget-cutter who can put the nation's fiscal house in order, but as something of a conservative of the heart.
This has always been the missing dimension.
The reaction of the Obamaites to the thrashing their man sustained is probably not going to be sportsmanlike. We will now hear more of the Gordon Gecko of Bain Capital writing off the 47 percent and more on the missing tax returns and Cayman Islands account.
But if we do, that will also tell the nation something.
It will testify to the truth that Barack Obama is not the nice guy he is portrayed as being. And if his campaign reverts to the low road, it will convey another unmistakable message: i.e., the president cannot win on his record; he cannot win in debates about the future. Where Reagan after his first term spoke of "Morning in America," the only way Obama can win a second term is to demonize his opponent.
Gov. Romney still has miles to go before he sleeps. But the president is today facing a dilemma, as well.
Given his performance, one of the worst in debate history, Obama cannot afford to lose a second or third debate like that. This crushing defeat has to be shown to be, and to be seen as, an aberration.
Otherwise, the country may conclude that no matter how much it likes him, Obama as a leader is burned out, a mechanic who has tried every tool in the toolbox but cannot get the machinery running again.
The first debate made the race a toss-up again. The second could decide it.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of "Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?" To find out more about Patrick Buchanan and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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