Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney appeared calm and composed in his first debate against President Barack Obama tonight in Denver. The president, pitted against Romney on domestic policy issues, seemed uncomfortable as he continually failed to effectively and efficiently express himself.
"The president was out of answers tonight. He was retreating. He was trying to find a safe zone," Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus told RTTNews after the debate.
"He couldn't find a safe zone. That's why he was meandering. He was boring, uninspiring," Priebus added, saying, "This will go down as one of the most lopsided debates in American history tonight."
Although this reporter couldn't find one pundit or journalist in town who declared Obama the clear winner of the first debate, the president's campaign staff understandably tried to diffuse the surprise at his lackluster performance.
"Of course I thought he won the debate," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters on spin alley immediately after the debate. "What we needed to do going out there tonight was to have people walk out of this debate understanding the difference between us and Governor Romney and we did that and I feel great about that."
Senior campaign advisor David Axelrod echoed this sentiment, although to a less definitive degree, when he told reporters he hoped the American people listened closely to the substance behind Romney's policies.
Arguably, the biggest fault in the president's debate style tonight was his perceived inability to succinctly and clearly set out his policies and why they are better for the American people than those of the former Massachusetts governor.
Axelrod did just this on spin alley, in a few sentences laying out the argument the president should have made during his time tonight on the debate stage facing Romney.
"When people sit back and say, 'What is it exactly that [Romney] just said?' -He's for Medicare vouchers. He thinks he can solve this deficit problem with my additional revenue. He thinks we can add $7 trillion to our debt before we even get to our debt problem that not exists and solve it," Axelrod told reporters.
"I think people are smarter. I think Governor Romney plays the American people cheap," he added. But the Romney campaign disagreed, saying the former Massachusetts governor won both on style and substance.
"There's no doubt that there are millions of Americans who tonight saw a candidate in Barack Obama that has no idea about how to turn this economy around and a candidate in Mitt Romney who has very clear ideas," Florida Senator Marco Rubio told RTTNews after the debate.
Regardless of the winner, both sides had their favorite moments. The press, who was eagerly awaiting the "zingers" the Romney campaign was reportedly working on before the debate, were given a few that appeared both well thought out and well-placed.
On energy policy, Romney exhumed his criticism of the president's support for failed green energy company Solyndra when he said, "you put $90 billion, like 50 years' worth of breaks, into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tester and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said you don't just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers."
Chairman Priebus thought the best moment for Romney was his response to criticism from Obama on proposed Republican cuts to education.
The former governor's jab definitely connected when he said, "Mr. President, you're entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts."
Senator Rubio told RTTNews he had another favorite moment tonight. "I think the most telling moment of this debate was when the president turned to the moderator and asked to change the subject."
"He didn't want to talk about taxes and the budget anymore. Very clear that he was uncomfortable talking about that and I understand why. He record on that is abysmal."
Meanwhile, veteran Romney campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom told RTTNews he thought no one remark was better than another but rather that "the best part about the governor's performance were his substantive arguments against the president and the status quo."
The president, although visibly not the calm, collected speaker he usually is, also had some good moments of snark.
For Jim Messina, the president's best moments were when he repeatedly chased down the truth on Romney's proposed across-the-board tax cuts, even for the wealthiest Americans.
"For 18 months [Romney's] been running on this tax plan. And now, five weeks before the election, he's saying that his big, bold idea is, 'Never mind,'" Obama said just under 20 minutes into the debate.
"The fact is that if you are lowering the rates the way you described, Governor, then it is not possible to come up with enough deductions and loopholes that only affect high-income individuals to avoid either raising the deficit or burdening the middle class. It's - it's math. It's arithmetic," Obama added.
"Governor Romney spent the entire first 20 minutes on the defensive on his own tax plan. He tried to walk away from something he's campaigned on for 18 months," Messina said.
The president also hit Romney on the lack of substance and detail in his policies when he said, "At some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves, is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they're too good? Is it - is it because that somehow middle-class families are going to benefit too much from them?"
Romney and Obama will meet for their second debate on October 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. The debate will be moderated by Candy Crowley and will focus on foreign affairs.
by RTT Staff Writer
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