I spent an hour after last night’s debate flipping through the news networks for the part of a presidential debate that matters most: what the post-debate analysts said.
It took just about that long for the conventional wisdom — that Romney won big — to develop. Here’s how it happened.
10:34 CNN — Pretty much as soon as the candidate handshakes and family cheek kisses are over, Wolf Blitzer says Romney “held his own” and wonders why Obama never attacked Romney.
He throws it to Candy Crowley, who says: “Mitt Romney will be very pleased with this night. If you look at the Twitterverse, you’ll see a lot of Democrats who think the president seemed a little listless here.”
10:34 FoxNews — Megyn Kelly: “It was an interesting dynamic to see Mitt Romney looking mostly over at President Obama when he was making his points and President Obama choosing to look over at Jim Lehrer or to look down.”
10:37 CBS — Correspondent Nancy Cordes: “Romney very energetic, probably more energetic than the president, and, most tellingly, I haven’t got a single email from the Obama campaign yet contending that the president was the winner tonight.”
The conventional wisdom is beginning to form. Obama did poorly on style.
10:42 ABC — Jake Tapper calls Obama “listless and flat – it was not a strong performance. Even Democrats and close Obama aides acknowledge Romney was ahead on stylistic points and on zingers … ultimately, performance-wise, I think this was a big night for Mitt Romney.”
10:45 MSNBC — Lawrence O’Donnell, looking like a kid who just lost a quarter down the sewer, reminds viewers solemnly that “we do not declare the winner of this debate. The voters make that decision.” Even the liberals think Romney won.
10:46 PBS — Scott Horsley, standing outside the hall and badly lit, says, “I thought Governor Romney came across as a reasonable person, a plausible alternative to the president, and I think the Obama campaign was very worried that the challenger typically benefits from just sharing the stage with the incumbent.”
The conventional wisdom solidifies: Mitt Romney won the debate.
10:49 FoxNews — After some show-offy harrumphing about past presidential debates, Chris Wallace declares that “Romney seemed more presidential than the president, more in command of his facts, his argument, his principles … and Obama seemed nervous, ill at ease, and very much off his game.”
10:51 CNN — The network goes to a panel made up on former Republican senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina, former Obama advisor Van Jones, Republican consultant Alex Castellanos and Democratic consultant James Carville. I mute the sound whenever Jones or Fiorina speak, because I could have told you a week ago what they’re saying now.
Why cable news networks persist in putting campaign surrogates on camera and calling them “analysts” is a source of ceaseless wonder (and irritation) to me.
But Carville’s honesty sometimes gets the better of his partisanship: “I just got the sense the president would rather have been somewhere else. The president didn’t bring his A game.”
10:56 CNN — John King gets up from the analysis desk, walks the length of the studio with a camera tracking him, and stands before the Magic Map. I love that thing.
“Without a doubt, after tonight,” King says, “Governor Romney will give energy to Republicans.”
11:03 WBZ — Jon Keller reports he “saw a challenger who was very well prepared, pumped up, and in take-charge mode for the entire 90 minutes,” while Obama was “remarkably passive for most of the night.”
11:05 WBZ — Sports reporter Steve Burton follows Keller with a “developing story”: CBS Sports is reporting Bobby Valentine will be fired as manager of the Red Sox.
No matter who you support for president, this is the best news of the night.
11:05 CNN — David Gergen actually shows up at the studio for tonight’s big event rather than opining from his office at Harvard. Gergen: “Mitt Romney could have gone down tonight and this race basically would have been over. I think now we have a horse race on our hands.”
That’s some topping for the conventional wisdom: Not only did Romney win the debate, he’s closed the gap on Obama.
11:26 CNN — The network’s “flash poll” (Wolf Blitzer makes a point of calling a “scientific poll”) has 67 percent scoring Romney the winner to 25 percent for Obama.
“Very consistent will all of the various reactions we’re getting from the left and the right,” says Blitzer.
The conventional wisdom has been baked, served, eaten and pronounced good in under an hour.
Whether any of this matters 48 hours from now — or on Nov. 6 — is a completely different matter. There'll probably be a new conventional wisdom by the weekend.
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