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Wednesday marked President Obama’s 20th wedding anniversary, but it’s probably safe to say that he doesn’t feel much like celebrating right now.
The commander-in-chief and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had their first debate Wednesday night, which Obama kicked off by wishing his wife, Michelle, a happy anniversary. The Democratic incumbent and the GOP hopeful then went on to spar over topics including taxes, healthcare and the role of government during the event, which was moderated by Jim Lehrer at the University of Denver.
So who fared better? According to the pundits, Romney was the clear winner of round one.
“Where was Obama tonight?” asked MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. “He should watch just not Hardball, Rachel [Maddow]. He should watch you; he should watch Reverend Al [Sharpton]; he should watch Lawrence [O’Donnell]. He would learn something about this debate. There’s a hot debate going on this country and you want to know where it’s being held? Here on this network is where we having the debate. We have our knives out. We go after the people and the facts. What was he doing tonight? He went in there disarmed.”
Added Matthews: “What was Romney doing? He was winning. If he gets five more of these nights, he will win.” (Watch video of Matthews below.)
Matthews also said that Romney “got away with” inconsistencies in his statements and questioned why Obama didn’t “attack him.”
“Romney was able to come in tonight, born free, born again, someone from another universe, and not the guy we’ve seen the last few days,” Matthews added, quipping that Obama “looked like he was writing notes for something — a future debate?”
Echoed MSNBC’s Ed Schultz: “Where was the president tonight? He was not properly prepared for this tonight. He was afraid to call out Romney because he didn’t want to look angry.”
As for Romney, Schultz said, “He didn’t look angry; he looked determined, like a guy who wanted the job. A couple of times Obama looked like a guy who wasn’t sure he wanted the job. I was stunned. There were so many missed opportunities, a couple of things he needed to call him out on to get Romney off his game. He didn’t come out confident and Romney did.”
He added that it’s likely some “lefties” are now reconsidering whom to vote for. “This is a huge opening” for Romney, he said.
MSNBC’s Maddow wondered whether the fact that Obama’s last debate was four years ago and Romney’s was just seven months ago played a role in their performances, while Lawrence O’Donnell said that Romney “lied outright” when asked by Obama about his $5 trillion tax cut.
Sharpton agreed: “When you take what he said tonight and compare it to what he’s proposed, what he’s said before, it does not match what he said tonight. So how can we be impressed with someone who made a very passionate and articulate series of lies tonight?”
Meanwhile, at corporate sibling NBC, the pundits agreed that Romney came across as more energetic, with Tom Brokaw calling Romney more “coherent” during the debate and David Gregory noting that Obama should have questioned Romney about his infamous “47 percent” quote.
Over at Fox News Channel, Megyn Kelly noted how the body language differed between Obama and Romney.
“It was an interesting dynamic to see Mitt Romney looking mostly over at President Obama when making his points, and Obama choosing mostly to look at Jim Lehrer or looking down,” she said.
Added her network colleague Brit Hume: “[Obama’s] expression sometimes seemed like a smirk, and smirks never help you.”
He added that Romney came out “aggressive” but didn’t come off as “rude or pugnacious.”
“He seemed pleasant, not disrespectful, and displayed an extraordinary knowledgability for someone who doesn’t hold the office,” Hume said, adding that Obama looked right into the camera only when he was talking about Obamacare.
Observed Joe Trippi, a former strategist for one-time Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean: “Romney looked like he was enjoying it and having fun, and Obama looked sour and like it was a headache to be there.”
Pundits on CNN also universally declared Romney the winner, including Democratic stalwart James Carville, who said Romney “had a good night” and that it appeared Obama didn’t want to be at the debate.
Wolf Blitzer expressed surprise Obama didn’t hit Romney on key issues his campaign had emphasized in previous weeks, including the republican candidate’s controversial “47 percent” comments, his role in allegedly gutting companies at Bain Capital, and his hesitancy to release certain years of his tax returns.
“[Romney] was very comfortable in his own skin tonight,” added Alex Castellanos. “The president was almost condescending at first.”
Anderson Cooper said Obama’s tone was off.
“It did seem like the president was trying to contextualize things in a conversational way that doesn’t really lend itself to a debate,” Cooper said.
Candy Crowley noted democrats were taking to Twitter to express the view “the president was sort of listless” during the debate. In addition to partisans, pundits also took to Twitter to have their say.
CNN’s Piers Morgan tweeted a post-debate prediction: “Romney’s poll numbers will move up significantly over next few days.” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof opined: “Obama at his best is such a gifted speaker. But tonight I’m afraid he seemed passive, distracted & defensive. Your take?”
The Huffington Post’s Dan Froomkin tweeted: “Obama didn’t need to attack; he’s ahead and his ads are doing that just fine. But he didn’t inspire. He filibustered. Sigh.”
But Time’s Michael Grunwald called foul over some of Romney’s claims: “Maybe I’m just inured to all his other BS but Romney’s green-energy BS was new. He said 50% of #stimulus-funded firms failed. I’d guess 1%.”
The candidates next meet Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. It’ll be a town hall format moderated by CNN’s Candy Crowley. The vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan is Oct. 11 at Centre College in Danville, Ky.
Philiana Ng contributed to this report.
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