- Whatever happened to Libya? The glaring thing about the debate was Romney's decision not to mention Libya. And it was very obviously his decision. It was clearly intentional. It floors me that Romney did not use this, since it couldn't have failed to score. As the debate went on, I kept thinking, I wonder, since Romney got the coin toss, if that meant he was speaking last. That would be the perfect time to launch the criticism, since Obama could not respond. What a brilliant tactic! So when Obama gave his closing remarks and it want back to Romney, I thought, okay here goes. He's going to nail him. But ... nothing. I think this was a huge missed opportunity.
- The gravitas game. The Romney's clear strategy coming into the debate was to look Commander-in-Chiefish. I do think he succeeded here. He looked an awful lot like the guy who already was. I think Charles Krauthammer was right: Obama looked small; Romney looked large. Chris Wallace made the remark that if he had been parachuted in from another planet into the audience of this debate, he would have thought that it was Romney who was president, not Obama. This was an atmospheric consideration that does not get detected by debate judges, but it matters nonetheless.
- A kinder and gentler toughness. Then there was Romney's peace offensive. If you put this together with the fact that Romney toned down the aggressiveness all around, I think this bolsters David Gergen's contention that Romney was trying to appeal to women voters. All of the Romney's agreements with Obama and his mentions of peace don't really get my blood pumping, but maybe Gergen's right and it will do that for women. If it does, it will have been the first time anyone looked more like a good commander-in-chief by sounding dovish.
- They still use bayonets, don't they? I winced when Obama said, in response to Romney's charge that the number of ships has gone down since 1917, that we don't use horses and bayonets any more either. I say this comes back to haunt him. It won't help him in the shipyards of North Carolina--or in the Navy at large. If I were the Romney campaign, I would immediately get out an ad, showing a series of Marines (who still use bayonets), saying, "Mr. President, I still use a bayonet."
- And that's why I want to talk about ... the economy. Romney repeatedly turned this issue back to his chief issue. I think this helped him.
- The staredown. I know these things aren't supposed to matter, but, thanks to this new split-screen view where we see both candidates facial expressions at every moment (will someone please pass a law banning this?), I think Romney won the grimace battle. Romney has a strange kind of smile that I don't find particularly attractive, but people are apparently used to it. Tonight, Obama unveiled The Glare. It was this intense, head-stuck-forward, jaw-jutting grimace that he was clearly trained to use by his handlers in this debate. I thought it was kind of creepy. I can just see John Stewart making fun of this. I don't think it looked good.