The three seconds that Mitt Romney stared dumbly as debate moderator Candy Crowley corrected his assertion that the president had not quickly identified the Libyan attacks as an act of terror felt like an eternity. As his insistence visibly turned to uncertainty then to confusion, the entire fallacy of this GOP strategy was illuminated on live national television: Romney had so come to believe his own lies that he was genuinely stumped when presented with fact.
In the first debate, moderator Jim Lehrer appeared dazed as Romney spouted, according to ThinkProgress.org, 27 half-truths and straight up lies in a period of 38 minutes. In this debate, both Crowley and Barack Obama pushed back and fact-checked in real time in a genuine and noteworthy effort to pull this election back toward a factual center. Without the carefully crafted narrative that Romney's team has reinforced as truth even to the candidate himself, Romney was forced to resort to nonsensical platitudes.
None will probably haunt him more than his already infamous "binders full of women" statement. His clumsy attempt to avoid having to give a definitive answer on equal pay for equal work led him into an anecdote about how as governor he had a binder full of women he could consider for Cabinet positions in Massachusetts. For those of us who have been waiting for our entire lives to be valued as equal to our male counterparts in the workplace, hearing that the governor's definition of progress meant having our resumes in a book on shelf was a poor consolation prize.
Whatever gender bump Romney received from Obama's lackluster performance in the first debate may have evaporated as quickly as @Romneys_Binder was created on Twitter. Confused by foreign policy and confusing pandering on women's issues, tonight was a bad night for Mitt Romney.
Ilyse Hogue is co-director of Friends of Democracy, a super PAC aimed at electing candidates who champion campaign finance reform. She is the former director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org and has been a senior strategist to Democratic and progressive groups. She is a regular contributor to The Nation magazine.
Ana Navarro: Obama had the edge
The second presidential debate has ended but the election roller coaster ride continues. The annoying truth serum is getting in the way of my partisanship again. I give President Barack Obama a slight edge in this debate, in large part because this Obama was so much better than the one in his first debate. He benefited tremendously from this comparison and the lowered expectations.
Mitt Romney gave a solid performance. He was articulate. He came armed with facts. There were some questions he dominated. But he did make some mistakes. He continuously became the moderator. He tried enforcing the debate rules, which he has a tendency to do and is awkward about it. And Romney repeatedly took on the role of himself questioning Obama. The problem with this was that it put the ball back in Obama's court, giving him another chance to respond. Romney also flubbed the Benghazi issue. Obama is vulnerable on this issue, but Romney didn't land a knock-out blow on it.
I didn't hear "the vision thing" from either man. The one who inspires us, gives us confidence that things will be better and that brighter days are in our future, will win this race. Fortunately, there are still three weeks of campaign and one more debate for these candidates to make us believe. These debates have become analogous to playoff games. Right now the score is one to one. The first debate was a blow-out victory for Romney. The second debate was a narrow victory for Obama. We have one more game to go. Play ball!
Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist and commentator, served as national Hispanic campaign chairwoman for John McCain in 2008 and national Hispanic co-chair for Jon Huntsman's 2012 campaign. Follow her on Twitter @ananavarro.
John Avlon: Romney's missed opportunity
President Obama needed a good debate last night and he got one.
Mitt Romney followed a great first debate with a fail. His constant interruption of Candy Crowley and the president -- his peevish, "Hall Monitor Mitt" persona -- was not just a loss in terms of style points. It was revealing in terms of character. The CNN focus group found that the intense awkward interjections alienated swing voters and women in particular. Tweets to me used words like "entitled" and "bully." Bottom line, it wasn't presidential. It was small and self-important rather than big and magnanimous. And it will cost him momentum.
The president started the debate hot rather than warm; he seemed almost too amped up. Romney did a better job relating to the audience as individuals at first. And then the insistent jockeying for time came, and the wheels started to come off his initially steady performance.
The Bengazi moment was also clarifying. Mitt Romney lost a major opportunity to press the president on a still-evolving issue of real vulnerability for this administration. President Obama's commitment to bring the killers to justice felt hollow one month after the attack. But when Romney accused the president of blithely hitting the campaign trail instead of focusing on the crisis, President Obama's response reflected real outrage at having matters of war and peace reduced to cheap political attacks. It was a defining moment.
The flip-flops came fast and furious, from new support for Pell Grants to the Dream Act, to name just a few. I'm looking forward to a full fact check list. I was surprised that more social issues questions, on choice and marriage equality, didn't get asked. Energy and immigration got their fill of time, and China bashing was a favorite topic, not coincidentally because it resonates particularly well in Ohio. President Obama also had a notable moment of unusual honesty for a politician, telling a questioner frankly "some of these jobs aren't coming back."
Romney's strongest suit in this campaign, his edge on questions of deficits and debt, came up rarely. The canned lines fell flat. And in Romney's closing statement, he suddenly chose to speak more frankly about his faith than at any time yet, showing a warmth that had been missing for most of the debate.
President Obama chose his closing statement to offer an unexpected defense of American Individualism while getting in a dig at Romney's 47% statement. Overall, the performance was everything Obama failed to do in the first debate: engaged and energetic, balancing vision with stats. He still hasn't offered a clear second-term agenda, a persistent weakness of his campaign. But the personal and policy contrast was clear, and Obama came out on the winning side of this second debate.
John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.
Donna Brazile: Obama gave commanding performance
It was Round 2 of the presidential rematch between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. And it was feisty.
Barack Obama was clearly the winner. He took command of the stage, respected the audience by giving them answers they could easily understand, and he did it with a smile.
The president came across as a thoughtful leader -- passionate, energetic, tough. Though it will be several days before anyone can fully digest the debate, some "instant reaction" is also permanently true: Barack Obama means what he says when he connects with the much-clichéd "struggling middle class" because he's lived that life.
Moderator Candy Crowley, like Martha Raddatz in the vice presidential debate, had a difficult job: Moderating these debates is like dealing with two guys arguing over the last beer when the Super Bowl's tied with a minute to go. But, as much as possible, she kept both men in their time limits and kept them within the framework of the question. She showed that moderators need to be journalists first, referees second.
The fact check on Benghazi will be replayed, but it was this response that showed Obama's true resolve and character as commander in chief: "The suggestion that anybody on my team ... would play politics and mislead, when we've lost four of our own, governor, is offensive."