In last night’s debate, Barack Obama wasn’t very good.
He wasn’t terrible. I think people on both sides are exaggerating the gap between his performance and Mitt Romney. (Both liberals and conservatives seem to agree Romney did better, though liberals are arguing this was only due to Romney’s “lies.”) Obama didn’t make any major gaffes, he was just sort of flat, professorial and only intermittently effective.
Romney’s performance, however, was far more interesting.
What stood out most of all to me was how much time Romney spent talking about a part of his past he’s barely mentioned in his career as a national politician: his four years as governor of Massachusetts.
On more than a few occasions, Romney talked about his approach to governing, his work with the Democratic-dominated Massachusetts legislature, even his health care plan.
You almost never heard Romney talk about this time at the convention, or during the primaries.
The latter, at least, makes sense — to be an effective Republican governor of a liberal state, you need to make a lot of compromises, which isn’t the way to endear yourself to the party base in a primary. So Romney talked a lot about his business career. (His opponents, both Republicans and Obama, also spent/spend a lot of time talking about Romney’s business career.)
This doesn’t appear to be an accident. Beyond just repeated mentions of Romney’s elected experience, he was at pains in the debate to emphasize his moderation on a series of issues.
Talking to Buzzfeed, an anonymous Romney aide makes this explicit:
A third Romney aide, granted anonymity to bluntly discuss strategy, told BuzzFeed that Boston is no longer concerned about conservatives’ support, and wanted instead to use the debate to talk to a segment of the electorate they haven’t reached yet.
This is conventional wisdom — you solidify your base, then pivot to the middle. But a lot of people on the wings of each party argue this is a bad strategy, that firm, uncompromising positions inspire and rally voters. Avoiding those compromises, they argue, leads to massive base turnout and thus victory.
How do conservative readers feel about the new, more moderate tone Romney presented Wednesday night?