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Why Romney Won the First Debate

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
Jim Lehrer was effective in one area as the moderator of the first Presidential Debate of 2012.  That is, he convinced the audience to not be a factor by remaining generally quiet.  While he was not very effective in controlling the candidates, Lehrer’s style seemed to work out well in facilitating his primary goal of drawing out ideological contrasts.

Even staunch Barack Obama disciples evaluate the first presidential debate as a solid win for Mitt Romney.  When the late night talk shows all make jokes about the poor performance by their hero, you know there is a consensus.

It is my analysis that the three reasons for the Romney victory are (1) the split-screen comparison of body language, (2) consistently strong wrap-up statements by Romney on each topic, and (3) believable sentiments by Romney versus political rhetoric by Obama.

The debate was captured in two perspectives with four generally stationery cameras; the broad stage, a rear-view, a close-up of Romney and a close-up of Obama.  If you look at a broadcast of the switched-angle (see http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Switche), Romney will appear to have provided the better performance.  However, if you watch the split-screen perspective (see http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/SplitSc), the comparative body language conveys an astonishing Romney victory.

Beginning at about 23 minutes into the debate, Mitt Romney begins to school Barack Obama.  And the President responds, with nods and responses in agreement, including small words like, “OK.”  Romney speaks directly to Obama with strong, but respectful self-assurance.  The President primarily looks down or directly at Romney for the remainder of the debate, receiving his scolding with a comportment that can best be described as submissive.  The side-by-side video conveys a very uncomfortable and weak staging for Barack Obama.  The rear-view of the candidates also revealed a subtle but telling difference of the President with one leg bent compared to the Governor’s tall and confident posture.

The second area was either superior preparation, excellent debating skill or fortunate timing for Mitt Romney.  Time after time, the President would make a statement that would be refuted effectively by the Governor as the concluding assertion on the matter.  When comparing their medicare plans, Romney ended the topic with a positive statement about the citizens’ ability to choose.  On the impacts of Dodd-Frank, Romney ended with empathizing with people finding good jobs and affording their homes.  When discussing the proper role of the federal government, Romney ended with the memorable line that Obama’s approach includes “whisking away the Tenth Amendment.”  And when Obama used the Cleveland Clinic to make a point for government health care, Romney trumped that discussion with the same Cleveland Clinic as an example of successful private industry.

Barack Obama never seemed to have a come-back.

But landing the most blows does not by itself win over the undecided.  Where Romney captured the hearts of undecided and Republican-base voters alike was his empathetic connection.  It began in the final segment before the closing statements when the Governor recited America’s founding principles from the Declaration of Independence.  He used the words heart, freedom, and dreams.  “We are a nation that believes that we are all children of the same God. and we care for those who have difficulties.”

Conservatives responded specifically to Romney speaking these words (without teleprompter), “We also believe in maintaining for individuals the right to pursue their dreams and not to have the government substitute itself for the rights of free individuals.  And, what we are seeing right now is, in my view, a trickle down government approach which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams.  And it’s not working.  And the proof of that is 23 million people out of work.  The proof of that is one out of six people in poverty.   The proof of that is we’ve gone from 32 million on food stamps to 47 million on food stamps.  The proof of that is that 50% of college graduates this year can’t find work.  We know that the path we are taking is not working.  It’s time for a new path.”

The knockout blow happened right after Obama took a strong swipe at Romney’s chin and missed.  The President repeated his class-warfare campaign commercial about tax breaks for oil companies.  Romney responded with, “You make a very good point which is, the place you put your money makes a pretty clear indication of where your heart is.  You put Ninety Billion Dollars into green jobs.  And, look, I’m all in favor of green energy.  Ninety Billion; That would have hired two million teachers.  Ninety Billion Dollars.”

The “undecided” debate viewers will take from this exchange a stark contrast between Obama’s utopian world of forced healthcare bureaucracy and unviable energy sources against Romney’s empathizing with families, individuals and small businesses who are suffering in the Democratic Party’s economic mess.

Tune in again this Thursday, October 11, when the Republican Party brings out its secret weapon at the Vice President debate; Joe Biden!

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