The Fix Live: Breaking down the first presidential debate

Oct 05, 2012

The Fix's Chris Cillizza discussed the latest in political news.

Follow @TheFix on Twitter.

Good morning everyone.

Beachwood Sparks new album is the soundtrack.

Grande Mocha is the official drink

Let's chat.

We, the Amalgamated Goats of America, would like to thank you journalists for taking the heat off us. And are you done with that latte? I'd like to eat the cup.

Not yet. But when I am, you can have it.  And, you're welcome.

I would love to see a debate/show where a moderator would call each candidate on the exaggerations, misrepresentations and out-right lies they tell during debates. Any chance you have the influence to see that this happens?

It would take the entire debate.  Not kidding.  Politicians always parse things -- numbers, past statements etc -- in ways that make them look good and make the other guy look foolish. So it has always been, so it always will be.

It seems to me that the media (including partisans like MSNBC) declared Mitt Romney the "winner" of the debate because he spoke with conviction and energy. But, my friends in the media, many points that he spoke with such grace were actually untruths that have repeatedly been called out by fact checkers like your very own Mr. Kessler. So is style all that matters in the media's assessment? I feel like no high school debate team would win if they were delivering dishonest facts (The earth is flat! Obama is imposing a $700 B cut to Medicare!), even if they did so with great eloquence! Why do media standards appear to be lower? Thanks!

I think you need to accept that these debates are made for TV events where how the candidates look and act (in nin verbal ways) matters.

People are elected a leader as president not a set of policy positions.

Did Obama blow his big chance to solidify his lead? It appears Romney may have won the election with one debate. How often have elections in the past been decided from the outcome of presidential debates?

Not over by a longshot. Romney got himself back in the game after a very rough month. My guess is that polling nationally and in swing states over the next few days will show Romney making up ground.  But, Obama still has a clearer path to the 270 electoral votes he needs.

I don't disagree with your Worst Week pick, but do you think that the employment, and more importantly unemployment, is a major consolation for the president?

I STILL think Obama had the Worst Week because of that debate performance. It was genuinely poor and well below the standard expected of him.

As I wrote this am, the jobs report is a silver lining, politically speaking, in a very cloudy week for the incumbent. 

Here's that piece:

We know a good debate performance can reenergize and inspire a floundering campaign and help change the media narrative, but does it really change voters minds, especially undecideds?

Not entirely clear. It doesn't typically, have a huge effect.

Check out these charts:

Did the President miss a huge opportunity to deliver a knockout blow, especially with Gov. Romney now apologizing for his 47% comment? I am still astonished that there was no mention of that or Bain. I can understand being cautious and appearing presidential, but you can still do that and call out your oppnent for complete falsehoods and flip flops.

Yes. I think that's how I would categorize it. He missed a chance to really put some distance between himself and Romney with just 30 days left in the election.

But the idea that Obama lost the election in that debate...not accurate.

I mentioned this in another recent chat, but to me, the debate struck me more as a browbeating from a disappointed father to a son who was unable to defend himself. To wit, Romney hammering home, "You've failed! You've failed! You've failed!" to a browbeaten president.

Interesting. Browbeaten is not exactly what we want in a president...

Will the good news for President Obama on the unemployment numbers end up swamping the story of the Romney win on the debate? I know the Democrats will certainly try to make that the case, and the Republicans will fight that narrative.

I don't think so. I think the massive audience for the debate -- 67 million -- means it will matter more. But, who the hell knows?

Is there anyway he sandbagged the debate? When everyone expects you to win the first of three debates, what do you gain by actually winning? And what better way to drive down expectations for the final two debates than to completely tank the first? Plus you're creating a "comeback kid" storyline.

Absolutely not.

And it wasn't the altitude either.

I tried to figure out why he was so bad here:

I'm an Obama supporter but wonder if they started to believe their own propaganda and assume they would be confronting a bumbling bozo the other night. Did anybody study Romney's past debate performances, he's had some good ones. He also succeeded in coming across as pragmatic and centrist rather than some ranting Tea Partier or something.

It's an interesting theory. I think Obama was just not well prepared -- not sure whether he underestimated Romney, was overconfident or just didn't make the time.

One thing's clear: Obama doesn't like or think terribly highly of Romney.

He'd like to speak to you about starting a "Worst Week in Manhattan" feature.


The dangers of Twitter.

Pundits, from both sides, are saying that Romney "won" the debate. Since is when breaking the rules and acting rude and arrogant considered winning? If this were a college or high school debate, neither man would have won. Romney was much too aggressive and did not back up his facts. The President was too passive and looking down much of the time; although a staffter explained the looking down, which almost all of the media has ignored. Just before the debate, news broke that Syria had attacked Turkey. The President was looking down at his device to keep apprised of that situation.

Um...I am pretty sure you aren't allowed any sorts of "devices" during the debates...

The question as to why Obama didnt bring up the 47% or Bain attacks is still baffling

Couldn't agree more.  Only thing I can think of: He didn't think it was presidential,

So this is now "completely wrong." I know Mr. Romney lacks respect for the voters, but does he really think we are going to believe this belated disavowal?

Well, I think he wanted to get it out there. And my guess is that the "wrong" response was what he had planned to say during the debate but OBAMA NEVER MENTIONED IT.

I have to admit, I didn't expect him to be that bad, but I didn't expect him to be good, either. I think one thing's been clear since he took office: he's good at the broad strokes themes and stories, but he is not good at all at delivering detailed messaging on policy. Hasn't that been one of the biggest knocks on his presidency? I'm thinking specifically about the ACA, which, Clinton aside, the administration never really figured out how to sell.

He's also quite cautious by nature. And it hurt him on Wednesday night.

I'm a fan. I've followed your chats for a while and just finished your book but I still don't get it - what does "the Fix" mean?

Like, you need your political fix. You are a political junkie and this blog is your fix.  Yes?

What's the tipping point of the conspiracy theories? Global warming...birth certificate...polls...and now unemployment numbers--all conspiracies! Do you think Obama/Biden will add a line about the jobs deniers?

I think it speaks to this broader erosion of confidence in institutions. People are much more willing to believe that the media, Wall Street, politicians etc are purposely lying than they once were.

Also, random conspiracy theorist: Ed Asner. He thinks 9/11 was an inside job,

I understand your position that "both sides do it" but if you're asked about specific lies in the Wed. debate you can't argue that without specifics. You also know that a misleading statement in April doesn't have the same weight as one in the first presidential debate.

Oh, I think there is plenty of evidence from that debate that both men did it.

So, Fix, given the good employment numbers today, are you prepared to "upwardly revise" President Obama's Worst Week in Washington? I think Big Bird may deserve that honor/brickbat now!

Poor Big Bird.

Though I am more of an Elmo guy.

Don't you think the President's strategy was to minimize his combativeness so he didn't come off as the aggressor? Otherwise, he would be compared as the angry black man which would undercut his likeability.


I think he did poorly. I don't know why. But the idea that it was deliberate is, to me, beyond riduculous.

Suffice to say POTUS deserved it after the uninspired performance on Wed night (BTW loved the Jerk Store! tweet yesterday)...but I would imagine the WH feels a touch bit better about getting through the Sept jobs report without hitting another landmine.


Who are the powerhouses likely to poach Mrs. Fix? Would you be able to cope with the cultural shock of relocating to, say, Baltimore?

Mrs Fix has been a hot commodity in field hockey coaching circles for a while now.

But, she's stayed at Catholic for a few reasons: She believes in the Division III athletic experience, she loves the girls and the athletic director is the best in the business.

Plus, red and white are awesome school colors. Very tough looking.

Are you going to revise your prediction/argument that Romney can't pull out of Ohio because it would be too devastating?

He will not pull out of Ohio.

Don't you remember there's only so many weeks for the Pumpkin Spice Latte?

[Kicking myself]

Maybe its time that Starbucks becomes the official sponsor of The Fix

Um, no kidding. Starbucks are you listening????

How good will the VP Debate be. It seems like the GOP is underestimating Biden

I think it could be really good.  Ryan seems raring to go and remember that Biden was kind of a stand out star from the 2008 presidential primary debates. I think Biden's showings in those debates is one reason Obama picked him for VP.

Easy to Monday morning QB, and we don't know why Obama was lackluster (strategy to not engage or just off his game) but he could have easily rescued the whole night with a better closing statement. This would have been easier if Obama went second on the closing statements. Obama, in his closing statement should have said "Now, I'm not sure who I just debated but it sure wasn't the Mitt Romney that supports <<fill in with all the crazy RNC positions>>. I know Gov Romney's campaign doesn't care about fact checkers but the fact checkers might want to hire some additional staff to look at his transcript. In future debates, I hope we can get more into the really important factors - Mr. Romney wants to deregulate Wall Street, and blames Seasame Street for the nations debt. The American people deserve a more detailed look at these proposals.

Agree. His closing statement was SO bad. It included this line: "Four years ago, I said that I’m not a perfect man and I wouldn’t be a perfect president,” he said. “And that’s probably a promise that Governor Romney thinks I’ve kept.”

Um what?

Do you believe same polls that say Georgia is "only" leaning-Gop?

Sure. But there is no way Obama wins it.

Is there any chance you can grow a Chuck Todd type goatee?

I grew a beard during the 2008 primaries...Mrs Fix was something short of a fan.

I didn't watch the debate, but I was wondering if environmental issues made it to the discussion. GIven that the Arctic ice cap is melting even faster than the most dire predictions, one would hope that the environment would (finally) get the attention it deserves.

They did not.

Although Al Gore did blame altitude for Obama's poor performance...

"People are elected a leader as president not a set of policy positions." There you go again. Maybe so, but this explains why we get the politics we deserve. Policy matters, not personality. If the point of view you expressed were widely understood, we'd cancel the debates. We're not such a cynical people that we think we're electing the best performer. Surely it matters, but most people really are listening for the substance. Have more faith in the American people, please.

Let me reiterate for the billionth time: There is a ton of great policy-focused journalism out there. I have never said I am anything other than what I am: a political reporter interested in the personalities, statistics and history of campaigns, Congress and so on and so forth.

Diatribe ended.

269-269 Romney-Obama? Is that possible?


Here's our electoral map if you want to fiddle:

I first watched the debate live on TV. I would have said Romney won 53-47 (not a landslide). Then, while driving the car, I listened to the replay of the debate on the radio and, no kidding, I thought Obama won the debate by a similar slim margin. Have you heard of other radio listeners with a similar response?

No. But remember that most people who listened to thre 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate on radio thought Nixon won. But, the debate wound up swinging the election to Kennedy -- reinforcing that the "performance" part of TV debates matter.

So Romney feels so good about the debate, that he actuall tries to explain the "47 Percent" comment (on Fox News of course). Is it officially neutered as an arguement?

He certainly hopes so.

If nothing else, is one major impact of today's jobs report likely to be that it may calm, reassure and reinvigorate the Dems? They now have a new talking point, and a tangible sign of progress, that enables them to move on from the execrable debate performance the other night.

Absolutely. Democrats seemed to be on the verge of full panic mode before this morning. My guess is the jobs report will convince them to take a few deep breaths.

I agree with what all the pundits have said, if you win the first debatee, you should win the election. Signed, President Walter Mondale


We did write yesterday on how incumbent presidents tend to lose the first debate of their re-election race.

It's here:

I thought you named it because you were going to Fix American Politics. That's it! I'm outta here!

Yeah, that too.

Call your shot. Who do you got in the Fall Classic. Am going with the A's vs Nationals Fall Classic

Nationals vs Yankees.

And, Nationals. It's our year.

Does Akin have any chance of winning?

I mean, anytime there is an election and you are one of 2 people on the ballot you have a chance of winning.

It reminds me of this scene from "Dumb and Dumber":

When Obama pointed out that he liked having his name on the healthcare nationalization. What better displays his massive ego than that?

I didn't read it that way. I think he and his team made a calculated decision a while back to own the term "Obamacare". And he has said many times on the stump something to the effect of: Yeah, I do care.

Does Romney understand he can't fire Big Bird without Congressional support?

Would you want an out of work eight foot tall bird with a vendetta looking for you? I wouldn't.

Hi Chris, Any one who remembers Ed Asner's Jeopardy appearance will know he has lots of wrong ideas.

He was on with Pat Sajak and Terri Garr!

Could it be that the reason Obama didn't bring up the 47% was that he assumed Romney had a response he wanted to deliver to that large audience (which we know now he did), and by not bringing it up, he didn't allow Romney to do so? And in this vein, what did you think of O'Donnell's suggestion last night that we might remember the debate as "the matador and the bull"?

Um, no.

I have NO idea why he didn't bring it up. He should of.

There's a video going around on the interwebz that shows Romney pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket and placing it on the podium, then when he leaves he makes sure to take the paper with him (instead of leaving behind his notes for aides as the President does). The articles usually accompanying this video state that candidates are not allowed to bring any materials in with them. Is this video a hoax? Does it matter?

It is a piece of paper. What could possibly have been on it?  My guess is that he had written a few bullet points that he wanted to remember. Or maybe even a few stylistic reminders for the debate.

The coverage acts as though he brought his iPad on stage with him.

Are you going to the NLDS?

Just as soon as someone offers me their tickets.

I agree, so some of the blame must go to John Kerry who played Mitt in debate prep. If he had studied past debates and played the part well, I think Obama would have been better. I just read that Rob Portman studied Al Gore so well in debate prep with Bush in 2000 that he approached Bush at the podium like Gore actually did. No one thought Gore would do that but he did! Portman played Obama in Romney's debate prep and he was probably similarly good, so Mitt was ready.

Ah, so it was John Kerry's fault! Not buying it.

Am I the only one who thought Romney's comparison of Obama's weak arguments to those of his boys was getting a little close to sheet flapping? Care to touch this one, Chris?

Yes you are the only one.

Its about 4 years too late in the making, but I think you need an appropriate visual with it. How about a graphic when Joe to bigger the gaffe, the more he morphs into Christine O'Donnell with a witch's hat?

I DO need a visual. Working on that now...

Chris, it's easier to perform well when not constrained by the truth. Romney didn't have to defend his plan or attack Obama's record honestly, just do so with the right body language and tone. It's pretty ridiculous analysis.

Thanks! Wait....

Wouldn't you agree that the President was in a no win situation? If he was assertive during the debate, many media pundits would compare him to a "Chicago Thug" and angry black man narrative. Wasn't it better to stay above it all?

I just don't see AT ALL the idea that if Obama was aggressive he would somehow be portrayed as an angry black man. 

I think throwing race into his poor perfomance makes no sense at all. He didn't do well. He usually does better. My guess is he will be more on his game in the next 2 debates. 

None of that has anything to do with the fact that he is African American.

Can you explain the meaning of "trickle-down government"?

Sure! Just watch this:

So does Rosie O'Donnell.

I was not aware of that.

Each mention of Ryan's "plan", Biden's use "folks/ladies and gentleman", and the moderator controlling the debate. Your welcome.

I am already getting excited for the VP debate.

What is more likely: the Dems take the house, or the GOP takes the senate? Is either scenario approaching 50 percent?

It's more likely GOP takes the Senate. But I think that is less than a 50-50 proposition at the moment.

You were still watching?? I gave up and went to bed long before that as did (I think) a majority of the viewers.

I mean, they do pay me to do this ;)

How would you rate the Allen West race of him losing his seat?

I think he will win.

Will the remaining debate moderators be more assertive with Mitt Romney, after the pounding that Jim Lehrer took?


But I would say that until you sit in that chair it's hard to know how tough moderating a presidential debate can be.

This is the debate I am looking forward to

Oh man. That is going to be a DOOZY

Style certainly matters in assessing debate wins. And the day after is well-renowned prime time for armchair quarterbacking. No doubt Romney (or rather, Obama's dropped ball) injected life in his campaign. But will the media now do their jobs in exposing the many untruths that Romney through out there? Both campaigns (like any) have bent the truth here and there. But Wednesday night was more like pushing a parallel universe than fudging a few facts.

Tons of fact checks -- on both candidates -- already done.

Check out the one the WaPo's "Fact Checker" did:

What does that mean? The KKK?

I genuinely don't know.

Let's call the whole thing off.

You say potato, I say potatoe.

Some predictors have NJ just leaning towards Bob Menendez, and I believe I saw one that said it was a tossup. Is there really a chance the R's win in NJ? Kyrillos is a big Christie ally I guess....

Not a very good chance at all.

One of the chats yesterday brought up the question of whether Obama came across as lackluster on radio as he did on TV. I listened to the debate on the radio and I thought he sounded unfocused, opaque, and without energy. Jim Lehrer sounded shrill and Romney sounded smooth and centrist.

Thanks for the perspective.

Steven Colbert put an Etch-a-sketch in a can of paint and put the whole thing in a paint-shaker and then out popped a bunny rabbit. I think that sums up the debate.

The Colbert-prepping-Stewart for the O'Reilly debate was also genius.


Finally, a leftist who admits to being racist. Congratulations, but now you'll have to buy your own ticket for the Correspondents Dinner.

I have no idea what this means.

But Kerry likely didn't help Obama while Portman likely did help Romney.

Fair enough.

Lately when I step on a scale, it just goes around and starts at 05 again. Biden broke the scale twenty years ago, and by now he makes Quayle sound like a genius.

I think you need a new scale. Or possibly a diet.

Good idea, but the Onion's long running pieces on Biden have been priceless (the one around his convention speech was their Abbey Road)...

I can't hold a candle to the Onion. I mean, those people are geniuses.

Kind of looking forward to the SNL take on the debate. Make me laugh, Seth Myers.

Poor Teri Garr--Pat Sajak is pretty nutty in his own right. I guess that left more time to chat with Alex.

I am still waiting for my invite for DC Celebrity Jeopardy.  We can't let Chuck Todd just dominate again the next time this happens.

Ok, folks. That's a wrap for today. 30 days until the election!

Have a great weekend.  


In This Chat
Chris Cillizza
Chris Cillizza is the managing editor of PostPolitics and he writes "The Fix," a politics blog for The Washington Post. He also covers the White House for the newspaper and website. Chris has appeared as a guest on NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and CNN to talk politics. He lives in Virginia with his wife and sons.
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