By Michael Barone, October 4, 2012 –
Did Mitt Romney win the first presidential debate between him and Barack Obama? Did Sitting Bull win at Little Big Horn?
You would have been surprised, if you had been the proverbial man (or woman) from Mars, to guess which candidate—the incumbent president of the United States or the former one-term governor of Massachusetts—had a better command of either the details of public policy. Obviously Mitt Romney did. And you would have gotten the sense that one of the two candidates had a sense of command and the other was hugely on the defensive. Romney was looking confident, with consistent smiles; Obama was constantly looking downward, on the defensive, irritated and—astonished.
Astonished, because during most of his public career Obama has been received by his audiences with undiluted adulation. He has been totally unused to being challenged on his talking points.
As a Democrat in Michigan in the 1960s, I opposed Romney’s father George Romney in his races for governor in 1962, 1964 and 1966. When he ran for president in 1968, he was unprepared for dealing with an unsympathetic press; the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press were, to varying degrees, pro-Republican in those days. When he ran for president in the 1968 cycle, he was caught off guard when local area Detroit TV talk show host Lou Gordon got him to admit that he was “brainwashed” by administration or military personnel in Vietnam. George Romney was used to being protected by the press from the consequences of spontaneous comments; when he wasn’t, because he had entered into the realm of national politics, he was caught off guard and, soon enough, his candidacy collapsed.