This electoral cycle has been interesting. Before the debates, I was happily watching the trainwreck that was the Romney campaign, as it staggered towards electoral annihilation. This impression was backed up by the polling data collected by Nate Silver at 538, who showed Obama becoming steadily more likely to win, peaking over 80% probability just before the first debate. Then the first debate happened. Obama dropped 17% or so in chance to win rates, everything looked bad. Andrew Sullivan was inches away from committing ritual suicide live on webcam. People began taking seriously the possibility of a Romney/Ryan comeback (oh, those alliterative tickets, will they ever be defeated?)
Things got better.
It began, really, with the vice-presidential debate. Well, with the cheesy exercise photos (cast-offs from a Time magazine shoot, I gather) which were released just prior to the debate. These were… prime candidates for memeification. Also for tumblr’s. Then there is @PaulRyanGosling on twitter. Oh, and there was the fact that Biden mopped the floor with Ryan, sending him screaming home in abject terror at the fact that he was expected to know things about stuff. Apparently that hadn’t been in the job description.
But that was only a VP debate. The numbers didn’t change much.
Then came debate 2. Romney decided to put some women in binders. He decided, in fact, to claim that his binders were filled with them. Turns out, when you do something like that, people will make fun of you for it. (If you thought the tumblr was good, check out the google image search results) Of course, it isn’t all just photoshopping women into binders. There are serious issues arising from blunders like this. What does Romney think about the role of women in the workforce? (He doesn’t) Is he aware of the difficulties still faced by women in contemporary society (No), and does he have a plan to alleviate these difficulties? (No). Look at what the Atlantic had to say about it. Or Jezebel.
This was better. Romney looked like a muppet. Obama looked good. The polls started to come back around.
It also made for good television. The mainstream media was immensely excited. Underdog challenger narrows the race after first debate. Incumbent gamely fights back in the second, with an invaluable assist from his Veep. Going into the third, the momentum is poised to tip either way. A Romney return to form could doom Team O. Similarly, if Obama keeps up with what he did in the second, all the RR gains from the first will be for naught. Oh, the suspense.
Debate 3. Nominally a foreign policy debate, it turns out to feature as much discussion of teachers unions as of Palestine. More debate of each of these than of climate change. (Marking the first time since 1988 that the issue didn’t get a mention in *any* of the debates). Romney looked cool, calm and collected. Obama did too. Maybe it would go down to the wire! (Oh, the excitement). Then Romney wound up for a knockout blow. Military spending. Naval spending. The Navy, he claims, is “smaller now than at any time since 1917.” Oh no! crushing blow! How will Obama recover? He plays to twitter, opening up with a smile to note that “we also have fewer horses and bayonets.” Yes, that last link is to a tumblr. Of course it is to a tumblr. That is how politics works these days. It should be mentioned that this was evidently not as catchy as was #bindersfullofwomen. As the Atlantic notes, it took 9 minutes to go from Obama’s mouth to a parody tumblr account. Compared to the speed at which the binders full of women tumblr appeared, that is glacial. I should mention that the headline in the Atlantic originally said ‘under half an hour’ … they have revised their estimate down.
This exchange did it for Team O. From then on in, Willard was rattled. He stumbled, he sweated (this is a big deal! Remember what happens once people can see you. They judge you on your appearance). Obama took control. All told, he won this one by more than he won the second (if not by as much as Mitt won the first).
Where to from here? I’m not sure. I hope this translates into a comfortable Obama run to victory, but there is time yet for some things to get messed up. And there is always the risk of Republican initiated voter intimidation/profiling to make things interesting.
Twitter, however, is the clear winner for coverage. The idea of watching on television, isolated from real time updates of how the electorate is reacting to the claims made, seems archaic and inefficient by comparison.