It seems incredible that no one knew that Mitt Romney was a tough, experienced debater and that he is adept at making himself seem to be more moderate, conservative or liberal, depending upon the occasion. Have those people who were shocked by his performance been under a rock for 10 years?
On the other hand:
What could President Obama have been thinking, if not that he was going to be up against it in that first presidential debate Wednesday in Denver? All he needed was a feisty performance, a spirited defense of the working class and middle class and a few jabs at the Republican -- no matter what either said or advocated -- and this race would now be over. It is even more incredible that the president was rising in the polls as a result of a number of stumbles and bumbles by Mr. Romney, but he obviously did not prepare to take the battle to him and go right for the political jugular.
And this was television, as both candidates certainly understood, where, in the immortal words of Andre Agassi, "Image is everything." His image on Wednesday was tired and weak.
Now, the president might consider firing his hapless inner campaign circle -- those same stay-above-it-all, reach-across-the-aisle electoral peaceniks who poorly advised him during the health care reform battle and for the next two years of his presidency. And his advisers must hope that Mr. Obama can turn the tide back in his favor before Nov. 6.
Knowing Mr. Romney's history of foot-in-mouth afflictions, it seems likely he will blunt his own momentum at some point, or that his blatant flip-flopping will again seem self-evident, no matter his confident demeanor. But right now the media has focused only on his dramatic surge -- on the horse race, of course, with Seabiscuit coming up on the outside.
Incompetent advisers or not, the president himself is to blame for his predicament -- and for now having to prove to the nation that he isn't a somnambulant wimp in the second debate. Luckily for him, the viewership is not likely to fall off much, given the rematch, Thrilla in Manila-style build-up this showdown will receive.
This should make for great TV and, for something political, a really big show. But what it says about a president, who knows? Whether the incumbent appears to have enough energy for another four years, however, is a real issue. A predebate coffee, no espresso, is recommended.