Who was that man, and what has he done with Mitt Romney? The Republican presidential nominee was more cheerful, more prepared, more specific, more informed and more energetic than President Obama tonight, resulting in a genuine rout. Romney seemed eager to answer every question, Obama looked peeved and sluggish. For every straw man argument the president raised, his challenger offered a lengthy and detailed rebuttal, in full command of the facts. Romney won virtually every single exchange throughout the night -- on jobs, on deficits, on energy, on Medicare, on health care, and especially on the role of government. Obama's strongest moment may have been wishing his wife a happy wedding anniversary. According to polls, a large majority of Americans expected the president to skate in these debates. What a different reality viewers encountered tonight. I'm not sure how others felt, but I actually found myself looking forward to Romney's next answer, every time. I'll have a few more specific thoughts as the night unfolds, but this was an exceptional evening for Governor Romney. I'll be fascinated to see how the Obama campaign and the media try to spin this.
UPDATE (first of many) - Final talk time: Obama 42:50, Romney 38:30.
UPDATE II - Rachel Maddow says she "doesn't know" who won the debate, but she's very angry about the "format." I think we know what that means.
UPDATE III - Buzzfeed instant headline: "How Romney won the first debate."
UPDATE IV - CNN's Wolf Blitzer: "This was a pretty good night for Romney."
UPDATE V- MSNBC's Ed Schultz: "Angry and stunned" by the debate, laments that Obama was "off his game."
UPDATE VI - Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Moore: "This is what happens when u pick John Kerry as your debate coach."
UPDATE VII - Hell has frozen over. Cutter: "Romney won the preparation and the style points."
UPDATE VIII - CBS: "Obama gets snippy."
UPDATE IX - Romney's clear win isn't just the conservative meme, folks:
Call it the curse of incumbency. Like many of his predecessors, President Obama fell victim Wednesday night to high expectations, a short fuse, and a hungry challenger. If Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn’t win the first of three presidential debates outright, he more than covered the spread. He was personable, funny, and relentlessly on the attack against Obama. The president looked peeved, flat, and -- this is the incumbent’s curse – irritated as he carried a conversation with somebody telling him he’s wrong for the first time in four years...Privately, some Democratic strategists said the challenger got the best of the president. “We got our clock cleaned,” said a Democratic strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution. The strategist had reviewed results of polls and focus groups of the debate.
We'll discuss more details and key moments tomorrow, but for tonight, I'll leave you with this. Enjoy:
CBS News instapoll: 46% said Romney won. 22% said Obama won. 32% said tie. Decisive win for Romney.
UPDATE X - Ok, I lied. One more update, with two videos. First, Mitt Romney's outstanding answer on the role of government (following Obama's rambling small-ball response), followed by pure Matthews schadenfreude:
UPDATE XI - My final lie of the night. One more update. CNN's insta-poll of registered voters: 67 percent said Romney won, 25 percent said Obama. Oh my.