In other words, what happened was exactly what every pundit said would and ought to happen. There were the same usual talking points, the same catchphrases—“trickle-down government” and “top-down economics,” etc.—and, in comparison at least to the Vice-Presidential debate, the same tactics.
Obama did what Joe Biden tried to do: he made a series of aggressive, negative answers that tried to discredit Governor Romney. Unlike Biden, the president was generally respectful, even despite his visible indignation. Yes, he spoke out of turn, and yes, he got more time than Governor Romney, but following Joe Biden—who interrupted Paul Ryan some 82 times—anyone looks good.
Romney made too many arguments based purely on assertion. Simply saying that you know how to get the economy going again is not good enough. You have to explain why we should believe that. He repeated himself—and a little of that is good—just too many times.
But the debates generally help the challenger: we’ve seen enough of the president over the last four years—in my opinion, we’ve seen far too much of him, and he’s done far too much talking and had too much camera time—but we still haven’t heard very much unmediated Romney. Just getting to see him, rather than the Obama-manufactured straw man, will help him.
However, this will not be quite as effective for Governor Romney than the first, or, I’m guessing, than the last. Town hall debates are inherently biased against Republicans, because what the media thinks is a reasonable question, is often deeply biased. Don’t believe me? Look at some of the questions last night: the gun control question, the equal pay question, the green card question. Town hall questions usually take the form of, “what are you going to do for my interest group?” The true conservative—and few Republican politicians are those—ought to have little to say, because he believes in treating everyone the same, rather than trying to make everyone the same.
My guess is that this one is effectively a draw. We didn’t see anything new, not even the angry president—he’s always angry on the stump—and most likely both sides will like what they saw. Republicans will like how Romney did, and Democrats will like the red meat that Obama threw them. As for independents, if any of them weren’t watching Justin Verlander’s masterpiece against the Yankees, who knows what they think? They saw a tense argument; maybe it wasn’t as tense as the debate between Representatives Brad Sherman and Howard Berman, whose policies and last names are so easy to confuse, but it was uncomfortable. Both men were quick on their feet, were well-prepared, and presidential.
Those undecided few have three weeks to decide the fortune of the country, and, thereby, the fortune of the world.