Sorry folks, but I just can't sugar coat this. Romney was the clear winner in last night's debate with President Obama. Now, with that out of the way, I'm going to tell you why that doesn't really matter.
Both candidates went in last night with their game plan. Obama's plan was to present his facts and figure in a calm, concise, and polite manner, which is exactly what he did. He wasn't angry, overtly emotional, nor did he show undue irritation at his opponent. In other words, he was Presidential. Unfortunately, that doesn't work well with an American public that gets its news via 30 second sound bites and 140 character tweets. Romney's plan, on the other hand, was to simply attack with as many talking points he can, as loud as he can, ignoring the rules of the debate, courtesy, and decorum, and keep the President on the defensive. Clearly that was the more successful plan, as he was able to get away with basically lying for the entire 90 minutes.
Obama, wasn't completely helpless up there. There were some clear shots that he could have taken against Romney, but for whatever reason chose not to. The clearest one was on the $760b Medicare lie that Romney and Ryan have been telling on the campaign trail, and has been debunked by just about every credible news source on the planet. Romney blatantly repeated this lie on the debate stage in front of 90 million people. Yet, when given the chance to call him out on it and basically end him, Obama chose to get all wonky and try to explain how his plan doesn't cut the money from medicare but from overpayments to insurance companies. Nice stuff, but for an audience of liberals looking for him to put Romney under, it fell flat. One other surprise of the evening was that no one mentioned the 47% video. That was supposed to be Obama's "golden gun", yet he kept it in its holster. Obama appeared to be playing what football analysts call "prevent defense", avoiding mistakes yet not attempting any big plays. In his efforts not to give the media any "gotcha" moments, he wound up appearing overprepared with facts, but unprepared for the realities of actual debate. Romney won this thing not because he had better facts, or even more of them, but because he was allowed to repeat his lies, deceptions, and talking points with total impunity. There was absolutely no resistance put up by either Obama, or moderator Jim Leher. He simply steamrolled over the entire 90 minutes, and thus was able to more forcefully make his arguments, even if those arguments were at best vague and undefine, and at worse flat out untrue, which is exactly what the facts-optional crowd on the right were hoping for. In the end, Romney's supporters came out of this thing more pleased with his performance than Obama's did with his.
What this boils down to is passion. Who brought it and who didn't. Romney showed passion in his arguments. Sure it was passion based on obfuscations, half-truths, and outright lies but it was there, and one might even say it was genuine. Romney brought it. Obama didn't. As a result, Romney was able to give the right-wing talking-asses something to crow about for a few days, and keep nervous donors from jumping ship for at least the next week. However, and it's important to bear this in mind, none of this gets him independents or those undecided voters that everyone says he needs. It also does nothing to increase his "likeability" numbers. That advantage, according to instant polling, goes to Obama. And once the fact-checkers finish scrubbing the debate for all of Romney's inconsistencies, idiosyncratic statements, and massive flip-flops, I suspect Team Obama will be well armed with a nice big goody-bag of ads at the ready for all those swing states. Furthermore, the vast majority of Americans who don't spend their evenings glued to FOX News or MSNBC will likely go through the rest of the campaign season blissfully unaware that the debates have even taken place. That's because in the grander scheme of political campaigns, unless a candidate says something earth-shatteringly stupid, debates are rather insignificant footnotes that are generally forgotten days after they happen. All in all, despite all of the breathless bloviating on both sides, last-night was not a "Game Change" moment. The Romney/Ryan Hot-Mess will slog along as it has these past few weeks, while Team Obama, bruised and roughed up but none the worse for wear, lives to fight another day for his inevitable re-election.
Finally, just one more morsel of comfort for all you jittery, panicky liberals out there. Both Al Gore and John Kerry were widely percieved to have won their first debates too. Yet we don't refer to them as "Former President."