How Mitt Romney won the first debate

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Mitt Romney brought it.

The preparation paid off. He had energy — and a command of the facts. If you were Joe Sixpack just tuning in for the first time, you would probably come away with the impression that Romney knows what he’s talking about — and has the energy to actually accomplish his goals.

Romney, who has often been light on details, also took time to explain his conservative philosophy in a very reasonable and common sense (and more specific) manner. This, of course, can be done, though until Wednesday night Romney had shown little aptitude for it.

Conversely, President Obama looked put-upon to even be there. He couldn’t muster the energy to smile. His visage was frequently blank. He lacked energy.

Body language matters, and Obama — who can be incredibly charismatic, funny, and energetic — looked defeated, spending much of the night looking down at the podium.

It was a great night for Romney, but I can’t help thinking that at least some of it was due to the circumstances. The debate format allowed Romney to excel.

It might not have been that way. My suspicion is that, like Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama feeds off the crowd. He gains energy and swagger when the crowd laughs or applauds. But the rules wouldn’t permit that, and thus, he never got in the groove.

Romney was also aided by Jim Lehrer’s permissive moderating style. Imagine how different the night could have gone if a panel of liberal moderators asked skewed questions, and rigorously enforced time limits.

It was a very good night for Mitt Romney, and he needed it. But Romney’s pattern has been to let up on the gas just as he is gaining momentum. With just weeks to go until Election Day, Romney can’t afford to do that again.

If Romney wins the election, we will look back on Wednesday night as a major turning point.

Matt K. Lewis