This opinion article originally appeared in La Voz Hispana. Gilah Benson-Tilsen translated it from the Spanish.
A certain political analyst was wondering why the majority of U.S. media gurus decided that President Obama lost stupendously in his debate against Republican candidate Mitt Romney. That was not just the opinion of conservative commentators, who contorted themselves with glee as they dared to dream of a possible victory for their candidate, something they were not seriously contemplating before the first presidential debate this past Wednesday in Nevada.
Obama has shown so many signs of superiority over his adversaries that everyone, though principally his partisans, was expecting of him a resounding rhetorical victory. It matters little that studies of debates have shown U.S. elections are not won through this exercise in transparency (experts generally agree that at the moment the debates begin, the great majority of voters has already decided which candidate to vote for.) And the Romney campaign had been doing so poorly, greatly debilitated by clumsy declarations, that the fact that the ex-Governor of Massachusetts made one good showing has been considered almost an electoral victory.
It must be admitted that Obama was excessively condescending toward Romney during the debate. As many have pointed out, he refused to exploit Romney’s obvious weaknesses, fearing, according to some of his advisors, that an overly dramatic debate would discourage a segment of independent voters: those who are disgusted by spectacles of insult and attack. Added to this is his magisterial temperament, which induces him to try to present his points of view in a fair way. This could explain the apparent disinterest of President Obama in the first debate, but while surveys have consistently found him to be the winner, all candidates must resist the temptation to “rest on one’s laurels.”
Nevertheless, the information supplied this past week by the Department of Labor on the drop in the unemployment rate, which for the first time in his term fell below 8%, reinvigorated Obama, who may adopt a change in style for the second debate (there will be three in total.) In reality these debates constitute the only presentation of the President before the public. This is in contrast to England, where the Prime Minister must regularly explain himself to Parliament and endure the boos of any discontented Members.
The Republican, Mitt Romney, conscious that in his quest for the candidacy he wound up too far to the right, intended to present himself in this first debate in such a manner that the electorate would again recognize him as the moderate ex-Governor of a state with a progressive reputation. He intends to rid himself of the stigma of being considered an opportunist politician, disposed “to be right with God and with the Devil” so long as he can win elections.
This is an uphill battle, because in spite of the polls showing him to be the winner of the debate (Nixon was named winner in his first debate with John F. Kennedy, and weeks later lost the election), the new rhetoric is not sufficient to make independent voters forget all the concessions to the most extremist factions of the Republican party, incuding the famous reference to the 47%, for which he is now apologizing.
Without going too far, the Republican candidate came close to affirming that he would maintain the limbo authorized by Obama for millions of undocumented immigrants brought as children to the United States. Except that he will cancel the program if he becomes President. All this should not seem strange for a candidate who, to win the goodwill of his fundamentalist base, came to identify Arizona’s infamous immigration law as an example to follow (the law authorizes police to detain persons suspected of being undocumented immigrants – that is, “with a Mexican look”).
Romney also faces another inconvenience, which is that to win the centrist electorate, which is the majority, and which often doesn’t serve any party but does vote, he must inevitably distance himself somewhat from the Tea Party base – which currently, through its uncompromising opposition to Obama, is the central nucleus of his electorate. As Romney certainly has never been a hero to the Tea Party (their favored candidate was Rick Santorum), only the desire to see President Obama out of the White House has given this group the energy to mobilize. But at all times it has remained clear that for these groups on the Republican right, Romney is just barely the lesser evil.
What this means is that in spite of the Republican campaign team’s joy after the sound performance of their candidate in the first debate, going forward Romney still has the double task of convincing those whom he offended with extreme positions during the first part of his campaign that it was not really him, but someone else who was talking – and at the same time not awakening further misgivings among those who, though they adopted him as a candidate, have never strongly believed in him. However you look at it, and with all the pretty rhetoric of a debate, candidate Romney can look forward to greater difficulties than candidate Obama.