Saturday October 6, 2012

Though regular readers of our opinion page know we are not big fans of Mitt Romney, we have to hand it to him for his amazing performance during the first of the presidential debates.

He was simply magnificent and had President Barack Obama back on his heels throughout the 90-minute debate. In fact, he made Obama look quite feckless.

Romney was on fire: Always on the attack; had all his bullet points memorized; and kept repeating his key words, especially $716 billion.

Kudos to him and his debate preparation team.

But we must remember something very important (yes, here comes the other Birkenstock) about Romney’s performance Wednesday night -- it was just that, a performance.

He took the stage and gave an Emmy-worthy presentation of a Romney not often seen in this campaign, an act any thespian would be envious of.

While Romney has enjoyed a post-debate bounce in his poll numbers, concerns about his character and his flip-flopping continue to trail behind him like the tail of a dog.

And as Nate Silver (he of FiveThirtyEight fame who predicted correctly to whom 49 of the 50 states would go to in the 2008 elections) said a day after the debate, "It’s just too soon to answer the question of what impact Wednesday night’s debate in Denver ... will have on the head-to-head polls."

Nonetheless, an Ipsos online tracking poll showed Obama still five points ahead of Romney -- 48 to 43 percent -- following the debate.


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And with the latest news that unemployment has dropped to 7.8 percent, its lowest point in 44 months, we wonder how big that bounce will actually turn out to be.

Prior to the debate, Real Clear Politics projected Obama would win nine of 10 battleground states, including Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia and New Hampshire.

How the debate might affect any future conclusion from Real Clear Politics is not yet known, and we shouldn’t forget there are two more debates to come, and one between Vice President Joe Biden and VP-wannabee Paul Ryan.

We might also wait to see what effect the analysis of Romney’s debate has on the poll numbers.

Think Progress, an unabashed left-wing organization, quickly produced "Romney told 27 myths in 38 minutes."

We won’t go into all 27 here, but they include: Obama’s alleged cuts to the military and $716 billion out of Medicare; the magnitude of the losses due to green energy subsidies; the effect of Romney’s proposed tax cuts; the amount the public debt increased during Obama’s tenure; and the truth about "Too big to fail" banks.

And then there’s that pesky little 47-percent comment Romney made during that $50,000-a-plate dinner last May.

(And we are still baffled as to why Obama never brought up the 47 percent during the debate, and nothing about Bain, for that matter.)

On Thursday night, Romney tried to distance himself from his 47-percent statement, told Sean Hannity on Fox News "Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right. In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong."

"Of course, the Obama team isn’t likely to let that be the final word on the issue," wrote Chris Cillizza on his Washington Post blog. "Expect Vice President Joe Biden and the president to push the Republican ticket on the ‘47-percent’ comments by insinuating (or insisting) that they are a window into how Mitt Romney really thinks -- and, therefore, not something that can be dismissed with a simple ‘oopsie,’"

"It’s possible that swing voters impressed by his debate performance will find his mea culpa reassuring," wrote the Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Grier. "But it’s also certain that Mr. Obama will still put up ads running the fundraiser video, with little extra commentary except subtitles. Voters predisposed to see Romney as someone who favors the rich may find confirmation in those grainy clips."

And some voters might point to his apology as another example of Romney’s most enduring trait -- his ability to flip flop like a beach shoe.

Of course, all you have to do is look at his slow but steady slide back to the what some folks call "the center" (and which we call not quite right-wing loony) to get more proof of Romney’s willingness to swing like a weathervane in the political wind.

So despite his admirable performance on Wednesday night, the jury is still out on whether he can successfully surmount the negative perceptions many of the voters have about him.

If they continue to look just below the shallow surface he presents in public, we doubt it.