Right before the debate, I tweeted that Mitt Romney faced the almost impossible mission of being both likable and aggressive tonight. It truly is a daunting combination, especially for a man apparently so ill at ease with himself.
Incredibly, Romney managed to defy expectations. He was sharp, precise, and quick. He reminded me of those boxers who jumps from their corner every time the bell rings. Even more surprisingly, Romney showed wit. Some of his comebacks were clearly rehearsed, but other weren't, like the memorable line in which he conveyed genuine surprise at the president's (quite absurd) decision to open the debate – a solemn occasion if there ever was one – with an awkward celebration of his wedding anniversary.
Of course, Romney told several lies and this should not be taken lightly. But it was Barack Obama's own despondency that allowed Romney to construct an entirely new persona on the stage. Romney won tonight. He earned it.
President Obama, on the other hand, baffled me. His rhythm wasn't right, his demeanor was off-putting. His answers went on forever. His body language was amateurish. While taking notes, he looked like a scolded child. He didn't glance at his opponent, and the gesture felt more like weakness than irritation. Worst of all, he seemed to completely lose control of the narrative.
If Obama ends up losing the election, many pages will be written on why the President decided to forgo the strategy that handed him the lead during the summer. Not once did he mention the 47%, nor did he question Romney's moral integrity as a business manager. He didn't even bring up Romney's immigration stance or his party's radical social agenda. It was as if he chose to go into battle without his most effective weapon -- perhaps his only weapon. In the end, Obama simply didn't put up a fight.
For me the last nail in the coffin was when, in the most baffling of choices, he devoted his final moment of the debate to remind everyone how he once said he wouldn't be "a perfect president." I understand the need for Obama to stay presidential, serious. I do get the importance of gravitas. But a gray, morose man does not an appealing candidate make.