President Obama and Governor Romney faced off last night for their first debate, and the reviews — for the President’s supporters — have not been pretty. I don’t need to repeat them here; I know that our readers were watching and tweeting along too, and noticed the way Romney steamrolled over moderator Jim Lehrer while delivering his “zingers” that played very loosely with the facts.
Campaign advisers David Axelrod and Ben Bolt held a conference call this morning to answer questions about the debate. We got word of it very late, and did not enter the call until it was winding up. But I was there long enough to grab the following tidbits, such as David Axelrod’s assertion that Romney’s “fraudulent claims are going to be hard to keep up over next 30 days” and that “they did keep one promise that they made was that they weren’t going to be constrained by fact checkers.”
The following are my fast-typed notes from the call and so the quotes are paraphrased (I don’t type as quickly as David Axelrod and Ben Bolt speak, but this is the gist of what I got from the end of the call).
Reuters asked if last night’s debate is prompting a change in the campaign’s strategy. Will the President do more debate prep? And why didn’t he say the things Axelrod said [which I missed] in the call?
Axelrod: Our choice was to answer the questions that were asked and talk to the American people about why we are going forward and not go into serial factchecking, which with Governor Romney is a never-ending pursuit. Will work on how to use our time better on the next one.
These things are always – it’s like a play-offs in sports. you evaluate after every contest and you make adjustments, and we’ll make adjustments. I don’t see using large amounts of prep time.
Question from the Washington Post: The president’s performance – He appeared listless, distracted, and annoyed. Will you talk to him about that? How do you explain physical peroformance?
Axelrod: I’m not a theater critic. The President didn’t do it as much as Romney did as a performance. That’s not his strong suit in these events. I’m sure he will consider his approach moving forward. He’s very eager for this next debate on the 16th. This was his first chance to see the Romney routine up close.
Andrea Mitchell asked whether the debate prep team regretted not bringing up women’s issues or the 47% speech, which has worked so well in campaign ads and in the President’s stump speech.
Axelrod: A lot of those issues are well known to the public. I think the President was focusing on questions that were asked. He didn’t come as focused and intense as Governor Romney on dropping particular lines and his interest was in honoring the American people with honest answers to serious questions that were being asked. I undertand our supporters would have liked him to enter into the record — about the 47 percent,. his choice was to talk about the things that people were worried about in own lives and that’s where he went.
Another question was about judgements to be made – choices that will have to be addressed in terms of adjustments?
Axelrod: This was the first chance for the President to see how Romney operates first hand. He is kind of a serial [unintelligible], an artful dodger. It makes it a more challenging kind of event. The thing – and this relates to the last question – the President hopes to avoid a situation where you have two politicians insulting each other instead of offering ideas to help the country but you can’t sit there and allow him to manhandle the country and your record and you.
Huffington-Post’s Sam Stein wanted some clarification on the President’s statement during the debate on Social Security, when he said “we’ve got a somewhat similar position”? Is that the campaign’s belief?
Axelrod: Paul Ryan’s position is on privatizing and I’m sure Romney has an interest in that, the Republican party – it matches with Medicare vouchers. The President wouldn’t support that at all. The President wants to be sure in the long run that Social Security is there. Medicare is a shorter term concern. That’s why we need a very aggressive reform to bring down the cost of healthcare. Not entirely clear – the President’s position is to maintain Social Security for people who have worked all their lives and have security at end of lives and be sure they have that.
There were some technical difficulties at this point in the call, and I could not make out much of the rest of David Axelrod’s answers. The outage ended with him saying this:
Axelrod: I think there is a fascination with Governor Romney’s performance…We will see in the next few days how voters across the country are reacting. Focus groups had a very mixed view… Both candidates got their points across.
Ben Bolt concluded: Every voter understands the positions Mitt Romney danced around last night, that he would have to raise taxes on the middle class, that he won’t allow pre-existing conditions – our campaign will be oriented around that the next several days.
In the meantime, the DNC has issued their first post-convention ad:
I was struck by how Governor Romney talked about the way states have to deal with “your poor.” What an odd term! He said this twice, and it was very distancing, condescending, and unpleasant.