Two Centrists on Stage Last Night

10.04.12 6:45 PM ET

Romney's hard tack to the center may have come as a shock to many, but Daniel McCarthy argues it's part of a larger trend between two converging parties:

One of the striking things about last night’s debate was the vigor with which each candidate contorted himself to look like someone from the other party. Well, “vigor” doesn’t really fit Obama’s performance in any sense, but it was interesting that he name-dropped both Reagan and Eisenhower, as if he sees those presidents (in a very abstract way) as his role models. That’s perhaps not so surprising considering the lack of postwar Democratic presidents to which any incumbent would want to liken himself: LBJ? Carter? A Clinton-Obama comparison would strike the wrong note for other reasons.

Romney, meanwhile, minimized the policy differences between himself and Obama: he won’t cut taxes on the rich; he says, “you can’t have a free market without regulation”; and he insists that his repeal-and-replace alternative to Obamacare won’t keep Americans with pre-existing conditions from getting health insurance. Romney’s pitch to Ohio was more coal, part of a broader pitch for “energy independence” (an idea that doesn’t hold up any better than “green energy”), while Obama channeled Pat Buchanan in the first half hour by calling for “economic patriotism” and damning tax breaks for sending jobs abroad.