Let’s just agree that Mitt Romney won last night’s debate.
He did. Even Jon Stewart says so.
That’s not to say Romney would make a better president or that he convinced a lot of undecideds who watched. (Though maybe he would and he did.) But as a form of theater, as a form of reality television, Romney outprepared, outenergized, and outpointed Barack Obama, whose lackluster body language underscored a flat, uneven performance that failed to deliver a cohesive message or to challenge Romney on a few dubious assertions. A smirk and soft, “Okay,” is not a retort, Mr. President.
So what should Obama’s team be saying to him this morning? How will they advise him to improve his tactics so that he’s ready for the next face-to-face meeting with Romney on Oct. 16. I’m hardly a political consultant, but I think Obama’s campaign advisors need to lock him in a hellish subterranean lockdown where he can heal, contemplate, and do push-ups until he’s able to climb out of a pit of misery. After all, that’s how Bruce Wayne got his groove back.
Maybe it was just the Bane/Bain coincidence, but as I watched Obama struggle last night, I thought of The Dark Knight Rises, when an out-of-shape Batman gets his back broken in his first encounter with a hungry challenger. Obama, too, has been out of the game for a while; the game here being debate. Wayne can’t just put on the cowl and be Batman again, and Obama can’t stroll on stage after four years and charm his rival and the television audience into submission. Meanwhile, Romney had fine-tuned his debating abilities in 23 Republican primary debates. 23! The man was ready. This was his moment. And he delivered.
Unfortunately for Obama, the Dark Knight analogy is only so instructive. Push-ups and chin-ups probably won’t help. I wouldn’t suggest trying to pulverize Romney’s “mask” next time out, and I doubt that Ann Romney is the real power pulling the strings for Romney’s campaign. (Or is she?)
In the interest of being fair and balanced, Romney has his own superhero template. Clearly, Romney is Superman — wholesome, great hair, likes milk — and his performance last night resembles the final diner scene from Superman II. Recall that in the movie, Clark had been there before with Lois, after he’d given up his superpowers to be with her, and he ended up getting bloodied by a crude goon who got handsy with his gal. Romney was bloodied in a way in 2008 and during the recent Republican primary — when his party really made him earn the nomination — so when he took the stage last night, some people might have expected more of the same. But just as the diner goon broke his hand on Clark’s rejuvenated abs, so Obama’s verbal barbs mostly crumbled on contact. So there. (Note: I am not insinuating that Romney, like Superman, is from another planet.)
So Obama needs to get back to basics. Romney needs to avoid making Superman III with Richard Pryor. And Jim Lehrer… uh… it would so great if he had been the Hulk.