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October 4th, 2012
05:47 PM ET

The audacity of Romney's Etch a Sketch

The Etch a Sketch was in full effect at the first presidential debate in Denver on Wednesday night.

Mitt Romney put forward a strong performance, transforming back into his 2002 Massachusetts moderate mold, a belated advocate of bipartisan leadership. It would have had a lot more impact if it hadn't contradicted almost every policy statement Romney has made on the campaign trail since he started running for president. This flip-flopping is a force of habit, but it was used to great effect, reflecting a campaign and a candidate finally focused on the general electorate.

President Obama, in turn, had an objectively weak debate. The president was more professor than preacher, a budget wonk getting lost in paragraphs of detail rather than concisely punching back. He fulfilled the political truism that incumbent presidents have bad first debates because they are comparatively unprepared and overburdened by budgets and other details of governing - as President Reagan did in his disastrous first 1984 debate.

The trick of communicating policy is to distill it to memorable concise concepts. That happened far too rarely, and when it did, it seemed to be off the cuff, winning Obama points for authenticity but few for debate prep.

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Filed under: 2012 Election • 2012 Presidential Debate • News • Opinion • Politics
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