Commentary: And Now It Comes Down to This

Michael Steele weighs in on the presidential debates

Commentary: And Now It Comes Down to This

In last night’s debate, neither Mitt Romney or Barack Obama spent much time laying out specifics about what each would do as the next president.

Published October 17, 2012

At the Obama-Romney smack down last night at Hofstra University in New York it didn’t take long for the disdain these two men have for each other to come out. They literally at one point could be seen circling each other like vultures awaiting the opportunity to rip their opponent’s carcass to shreds. It may have been interesting (not even good) television for their respective base, but it reflected poor presidential judgment by both men, in my view.

I’m all for passion and a good political fight, but we witnessed yet another debate in which each candidate did not spend much time laying out specifics about what he would do as the next president of the United States.

While Mitt Romney was clearly rattled by moderator Candy Crowley’s Insta-Fact Check moment on Libya; and President Obama was himself being less-than-truthful on his administration’s oil and gas policies, I still don’t know what a second Obama term will mean to unemployed Americans. And I am equally uncertain which deductions “for the top 5%” a “President Romney” would cut to pay for his economic plan. The only thing I do know is that if these two men fought as hard over creating jobs, stemming the growth in poverty rates and educating America's children as they fought each other in this debate over drilling for oil or cutting licensing permits, then happy days would be here again!

As other conservative voices have noted, Obama won this debate on points. It was clear by the end that Obama had successfully stopped the momentum Romney had gained from their last debate, but he by no means reversed it. This will be a critical point in battleground states in the coming days heading into the last debate — on foreign policy — as the fallout from this debate coupled with the impressions from the first shape the remaining weeks of what has been at best a disappointing presidential race.

Let’s review the previous two debates.

It was just two weeks ago that one could feel the excitement building on the streets of America, and certainly on the campus of University of Denver, for the first Obama-Romney match-up. Let’s just say anticipation was palpable. All of the utter silliness that had defined the 2012 presidential campaign up to that point came down to this: the moment Obama and Romney walked out on that stage, shook hands, smiled at each other and answered the first question. America was ready for a debate unlike anything they had seen before.

Then Obama dropped the mic — and not in the good sense. The president was clearly off (even Romney made more of the president being on stage with him on his anniversary than the president did) and wanted to be any place else but there. His lack of preparation was clear. From his body language (often looking down and strangely nodding in agreement with the criticisms of him by Mr. Romney) to his lackluster responses to charges by Romney (no riposte with “the 47%”) left many Obama supporters screaming in front of their TV sets. Spin as they might afterwards, there was very little the president could say except “Oops, my bad.”

Romney on the other hand knew exactly where he was and why he was there. He came prepared to take on, and to take down, the “Great Communicator” and did so effectively. In short, within the first 30 minutes of his first one-on-one, face-to-face interaction with the president, Mr. Romney won the debate.

Fast forward to the vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. After a week of wondering what happened to the president (after all, Romney couldn’t possibly be that good) all eyes turned to the mercurial vice president and the wonkish congressman from Wisconsin. Of course the tasks before Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan were nothing if not nuanced.

For Ryan the task was straightforward: hold the ground already gained by Romney and do no harm. Check. On both the substance and style of his presentation, Ryan had to demonstrate he had the gravitas to not only be vice president but to be president if necessary. Check. Given his book knowledge of the budget and the inner workings of that madhouse known as Congress, Ryan couldn’t get too geekish on the numbers or get bogged down in the process. Instead, he had to parry when he needed to, pivot when he must. And, for the most part, that is exactly what Ryan did.

Biden is a force unto himself — just ask the president (remember his dropping the F-bomb in the president’s ear?). So it was no wonder to see Joe Biden being, well, Joe Biden. The intense hype leading up to this debate about whether the vice president would be a walking gaffe machine was dispelled almost immediately as Biden settled down into a relatively error free evening of folksy colloquialisms, smirks, excited hand gestures, bold interruptions and generally schooling Ryan. While I would give the debate, on points, to Biden, it was not the runaway evening for the vice president that many on the Left proclaimed it to be.

We now have one more presidential debate until the Nov. 6 election. We will have to wait and see which candidate “wins” that debate and eventually the race for the White House.


Michael Steele served as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee. He is a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and a political commentator. He will be providing commentary on all things politics for each week.


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


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Written by Michael Steele


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