Amid his many cares and concerns, President Barack Obama need not worry about whether his timepiece might be soiled.
That’s because, by almost all indications, he got his clock cleaned in Wednesday night’s debate with Mitt Romney.
It wasn’t so much that Romney was particularly excellent — although he was certainly well-prepared and effectively aggressive in the 90-minute encounter — most of the damage to Obama was self-inflicted.
Before the debate, it was reported that his strategists were concerned that the president could be too professorial, give answers that would be too long, and appear as if he would rather be anywhere else than participating in the debate.
As it turned out, those concerns were well-justified.
Certainly, he was much more feisty four years ago when debating John McCain, but then he was the challenger. Wednesday night, he was the president, and perhaps got too caught up in being the most important person in the world.
Recent history indicates a tradition of just that sort of thing occurring.
It was widely agreed that President Ronald Reagan lost his first debate with Walter Mondale in 1984, appearing old and not mentally alert. Reagan came back strongly in the next debate and thrashed Mondale in the election.
In 1992, incumbent George H.W. Bush looked as if he didn’t want to be on stage with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, and was famously caught looking at his watch. Bush lost the debate and the election.
In 2004, George W. Bush was ahead in the polls by 6 or 7 points before debating John Kerry. Bush lost almost his whole lead and won his election in a squeaker.
Wednesday was Obama’s turn. Whether it costs him the election is yet to be determined. What is certain is that he lost an opportunity to bury Romney’s chances and persuade the Republican’s donors that he had no chance to win, and may have squandered the millions of dollars spent trying to convince the electorate that Romney is an unsuitable candidate for president.
For whatever reason, Obama even allowed Romney to get away time and again with claiming the president would take $716 billion out of Medicare instead of payments to providers.
If Obama had a strategy, it almost looked like he was copying Muhammad Ali’s “rope-a-dope,” wherein he hung on the ropes and hoped his opponent would punch himself out.
It worked for Ali against George Foreman, but it failed the first time Ali used it, against Joe Frazier, who knocked him down and won the fight.
Obama has gotten knocked down. Whether he gets up off the canvas and wins will depend greatly on whether he starts swinging back in his next two debates with Romney.