George Will made a relatively quixotic proclamation immediately after the second presidential debate held at Hofstra University in New York. First of all, he thought the debate was "immeasurably the best" in American presidential debate history. Just as quixotically, Will declared Obama the big winner of the night.
Will made these statements on ABC News in the wrap up discussion after the debates.
Of course, Will was correct with his opening line. Obama did retake ground that he lost with his base because of his pitiful performance in the first debate. But that arguably did not advance his cause. After all, we are less than 20 days out from the election. If all Obama could do in this debate is begin to bring his base back into the fold, that is bad news for Obama, indeed. This close to Election Day he should be making his best appeal to the middle and the undecided voters. But there he was still trying to reel in his base. How Will could call that a victory is anyone's guess.
It is also a bit odd to call this debate "the best" one ever. "Moderator" Candy Crowley did a horrible job at Hofstra. With her interrupting Romney 28 times but only doing so 9 times to Obama, with her allowing Obama the last word 8 out of 11 times, and with her giving Obama more time to talk than she allowed Romney, not to mention her coming to Obama's aid by not allowing Romney to make the truthful point that Obama didn't call the attacks on Benghazi a terror attack and then falsely claiming that Obama did, indeed, do so, well that all adds up to a failed effort at an honest, fair and vigorous debate.
It is also sad that Will didn’t mention the rule breaking applause, led by Michelle Obama, that also gave Obama succor that night. Just as failed moderator Crowley shamefully interjected during the Libya discussion, Michelle began applauding and this brought others to join her. There wasn’t supposed to be any applause as Crowley warned the audience at the outset of the event. Neither Crowley nor Will bothered to notice this flagrant violation of the debate rules.
Another interesting thing about Will's assessment is that he seemed to ignore all the many times Obama never bothered to actually answer the questions put to him. All too often, the President rambled on with talking points and attacks on Romney instead of detailing his own ideas for a second term.
As Ed Morrissey notes in The Financial Times Obama failed to lay out a second term agenda in the debate preferring instead to just attack, attack, attack.
I also don't think the President's big finish was as definitive as Will imagines. After all, in many of the flash polls immediately after the debate, it seemed clear that Obama didn't advance the football too far. Many polls felt that Obama only got a slight edge over Romney (even The New York Times said this). But even with that slight edge, Romney got higher marks on key issues like the economy and the deficit, the very issues on which Obama claims preeminence.
Further, that big finish talking up the "47 percent" was yet another desperate attempt to reel in the base. Not a good thing as we discussed above.
Lastly, it was interesting that George Will didn't seem to think the Libya issue was even worth mentioning. Obama's failure in Libya is clearly a vulnerability and in the end it is far more likely than not that it will redound to Romney's favor.
Will's pronouncement just seemed to miss so much.
The voters will tell us, I think there was a winner in the sense that Barack Obama not only gained ground that he lost, but he cauterized some wounds that he inflicted on himself by seeming too diffident and disengaged
Both men tonight, I think, tip-toed right up to the point of rudeness, but stepped back. It was a very good fight.
I have seen every presidential debate in American history since the floor of Nixon and Kennedy in 1960. This was immeasurably the best.
I think the president’s tactical victory was on trying to get Mitt Romney to un-ring a bell, which is very hard to do.
First was on self-deportation and immigration. Mitt Romney probably gained some ground with Hispanics by stressing something about which they’re very unhappy -- the president’s failure to come up with immigration reform. But the self-deportation phrase that Mitt Romney used during the primary is hard to get out from under.
The president held his fire on the 47 percent until he had the last word in the debate. That is, he used it in his summation in a way that Mitt Romney could not explain or respond to. So, I think as a tactical measure tonight, the president did very well, indeed.