Debate Mystery

Was That Obama’s Dud Double Who Lost the Debate to Romney?

In Denver he was more flaccid, dull-brained, and shifty than we’ve ever seen him, says Tunku Varadarajan.

Nicholas Kamm / AFP-Getty Images

I bedded down for this debate, Scotch in hand, expecting to be bored five ways to rigor mortis. Instead, I was jolted upright by a Mitt Romney who seemed, himself, to have been jolted upright by the prospect of doing or dying. He did, most emphatically. And he didn’t die, by any stretch.

Did Obama die? Only the polls will tell. But he certainly didn’t do.

My God, in the four years that we’ve seen him in the White House, I don’t think we’ve ever seen the president so flaccid, so dull-brained, so jejune, so shifty, so downcast. No one—not even his most fawning fan—would have imagined that Romney, wooden Romney, uncharismatic Romney, infuriatingly off-target Romney, would deliver such a resounding KO to Obama. So bereft of fuel was the president that one was tempted to wonder whether a posse of evil Mormonistas had kidnapped the real Barack on the eve of the debate and plonked in his place a dud double, wonky like the original no doubt, but oh so utterly boring that even my colleague Andrew Sullivan was driven to despair.

The debate made clear that Obama is not a debater, he’s a declaimer; and Romney’s a debater, not a campaigner. The questions we’re now left with are the following: has Romney enough time left to campaign as he debated Wednesday night, clear-headedly, unapologetically, in that avuncular fashion with a reassuring hint of Reagan? Has he prepped well enough to carry his debating advantage into weaker terrain—the debate on foreign policy? And conversely, how will Obama recover from this creaming, this drubbing at the hands of a man he despises? Old geezers I’ve spoken to say his loss Wednesday was sweaty-Nixonesque. I think that’s an exaggeration. But I think, also, that his biggest worry is that Romney has shown not just that he’s a resilient dude … but also that he’s likable. Or “likable enough,” to coin a phrase.