President Obama came out swinging, noted editorial writer Jon Healey during our live commentary of Tuesday’s town hall-style debate. Harold Meyerson agreed: “He’s fully awakened.” Others on our panel, composed of opinionators from the left and the right, weren’t as impressed. Mickey Kaus, for instance, thought Obama missed an easy opportunity to offer a mea culpa and to “plea for a second term.” Meantime, Doyle McManus praised Mitt Romney’s presence on the debate stage: “Romney is really good at this. His talking points are crisper. It’s nice to be the challenger.” Jim Newton thought otherwise: “Rare that I disagree with you, Doyle, but I think he seems tight and borderline snotty.”
So, ultimately, who won? Overall, they gave the edge to Obama. Here’s their instant analysis. (For further analysis, DoyleMcManus’ column will be live in the Opinion section later Tuesday night.)
Jim Newton: It says too little to say that President Obama won this debate. He articulated a vision for the country that is clearer, more compassionate, more intelligent and more comprehensive than that of Gov. Romney. Romney was vague on taxes, while Obama was specific on what he would ask of the American people. Romney thought out loud about what we should do “if you’re going to have women in the workplace”; Obama explained what he’s done for women in the workplace. Obama won not because he was more aggressive or more alert but because he was more correct.
Jon Healey: President Obama’s performance in Tuesday’s second presidential debate was dramatically better than his outing in the first one earlier this month. Unfortunately for Democrats, Obama’s Republican rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, didn’t crumble in the face of the newly energized and forceful president. [Continue reading here.]
Mickey Kaus: The Libya exchange, with Crowley’s out-of-line side-taking, was the key from an alpha male theater point of view. Obama won it. Luckly for Romney it came late in a debate in which he was holding his own. But Obama didn’t win by as big a margin as MSM will say he won by -- and won’t get as big a bump as they expect, unless voters believe MSM by more than I think they do.
Patt Morrison: President Obama won this one, in part because of the contrast to his poor performance the last time around. I tweeted that Romney lost body-language points by sometimes looking and sounding too aggressive and even rude, with remarks like, “You’ll get your chance in a moment -- I’m still speaking.” For a moment I thought he was inviting a Sherman-Berman smackdown! Romney parried trade and economic questions better than he handled social policy matters, like arguing that marriage is a solution to gun violence, and answering a pay fairness question with an answer about how many women he hired into his Cabinet as Massachusetts governor. I’ll be very interested in female voters’ reaction to this debate because much of it was about them.
Charlotte Allen: Yes, as the CNN commentators I watched said, Obama was more feisty and energetic than he’d been during Debate #1 -- without sacrificing the essential affability that won him the election in 2008. That’s a plus. He also managed to throw some red meat to his base by bringing up (if rather incoherently at the very end) that 47% that seems to be the cornerstone of Democratic Party class warfare these days. His problems were twofold, however. First, Romney is simply physically more imposing than Obama, who unfortunately looks like a desiccated twerp compared to the robust and self-confident Romney. Second, Obama, as ever, was pushing more of the same: more government spending and higher taxes on the evil rich. That same-old same-old operated as a drag against the energetic image he was trying to project. And on substantive issues he just seemed obtuse: still trying to blame Romney for criticizing the Benghazi video apologies when it’s crystal clear that someone in the administration blew it big-time, and maintaining that $9-a-month contraceptives stand in the way of women’s economic progress. Really? How gullible do you think women are, Mr. President? My assessment: Romney, super-energetic and brimming with confidence, won again, if by fewer points. If I had to ding Romney, it would be for not formulating a stronger and more coherent riposte to Obama’s “war on women” silliness. And I give kudos to Obama for moving past his vice president’s smirks and belligerence of last week to return some semblance of gravitas to the debates.
Harold Meyerson tweets: Obama delivered! Now we’ll see if the polls bounce back.
Tom Hayden tweets: Final verdict -- O in great form, excellent attacking R. But not only about issues. The question is if R succeeded staying in the middle.
Stay tuned: We’ll be live tweeting the third and final presidential debate on Monday, Oct. 22.
Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier