Mark Steyn’s Debate Reaction
HH: Broadcasting from the CPAC convention in Denver on the day after the most devastating loss in the history of presidential debates suffered by Barack Obama, the Agincourt of presidential debates. Call it Midway, call it Dien Bien Phu, call it whatever you want, it was a rout. And who will call it best? Mark Steyn, of course, Columnist To the World. Mark, welcome, what did you think of last night?
MS: Well, I’m not sure I’d go as far as, what did you say, Midway, Agincourt…
HH: Agincourt, Midway and Dien Bien Phu, because John Kerry was involved. We had the French aspects.
MS: Yeah, that’s right. I wouldn’t, I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I think it was certainly the worst since Bob Schieffer moderated the Grover Cleveland-Benjamin Harrison debate. I mean, it’s definitely up there.
HH: Now President Obama seemed as unprepared for these debates as he was for the presidency. The big question in everyone’s mind is was that the real Obama finally facing a real opponent? Or was he just, you know, the altitude sickness that Al Gore came up with?
MS: Yeah, that’s right. You seem to be coping okay with it.
HH: Well, it’ll catch up with me.
MS: And by the way, mere Earthbound politicians can claim that excuse, but not the guy who we were told is a god descended from Mt. Olympus to walk among us. That excuse we’d buy from anyone, but not him. And you know, my office manager got married on the exact same day twenty years ago, and being frugal, north country Yankees, they didn’t exactly push the boat out. And I said to her this morning, well, look at it this way. However bad yours was, you had a better evening than Barack and Michelle. It was, you know, I think that’s the point. It was bad, because he’s the silver-tongued orator and the coolest guy on the planet. And he lost to the guy who’s supposed to be the uptight, Mormon stiff. So this is way worse than just Bush, you know, underwhelming up against John Kerry or anything like that.
HH: Well, Mark, I am of course over the top with my analogies, but the left today has been trotting out serial spins for this disaster – oh, it was rope-a-dope. Oh, it was Napoleon invading Russia. Oh, it was the altitude sickness. But I keep coming back very seriously to the fact he’s just not that good. He just doesn’t really understand what he was talking about on subject after subject, from IPAB to the Cleveland clinic, to how taxes work.
MS: No, no.
HH: He just doesn’t know.
MS: No, well, that’s the thing, and it’s not just, what’s interesting is it’s not that he doesn’t know the issues, but it’s that he’s too, he didn’t even know the lame MSNBC talking points. So that’s why those guys were mad, because they’re, they sit there and they watch him saying well, you know, I think Governor Romney and I agree a lot about Social Security, because he’s too lazy even to learn the lame attack points. I said on this show a week or two back, you know, the classic performance by Obama, whether you’re talking about Martha Coakley or his bid for the Chicago Olympics is that he goes to the trouble of flying in to phone it is.
MS: And that’s what he did last night. Again, again, again.
MS: And all presidents are cocooned, and in a sense, it’s deplorably unrepublican that that should be so. But he is in a cocoon unknown to George W. Bush or anybody else. I mean, here’s a guy who a week or two back was at a champagne reception with Jay Z and Beyonce. Do you think anyone toasting their flutes on that evening offered to explain to him that he might have a vulnerability? Or do you think they all just told him this thing’s in the bag?
HH: The latter, definitely. I’m going to come back to the substance of the debate in just a second, but I want to pause on MSNBC, and indeed, much more. Whether it was Michael Moore or Bill Maher or Andrew Sullivan or the MSM’ers like David Gregory and a host of CNN’ers, they all were apoplectic. It was like the Lord of the Flies adapted for debates, and they turned on him, and they said…why the anger, Mark Steyn, on the left?
MS: No, well, and I think they also turned on poor, old Jim Lehrer, who had been hailed…Politico did some preposterous thing on how he was the master of moderation and everything. And now, they treat him like that guy who did the video. He’ll be lucky if the L.A. County Sheriffs aren’t around his house to get him on parole violations. I mean, this guy…you know what it’s like? It was like, somebody said this last night, it’s like when a boxer who’s come up with so many fixed fights actually finds himself in the ring with somebody who is real. And by the way, that, just to go back to Jim Lehrer for a moment, I thought one of the very best moments about ten minutes in was when Romney fired, in effect, fired Big Bird and Jim Lehrer.
MS: I thought that is so cool to tell the moderator you’re going to cut off his funding.
HH: Yes, it was…
MS: And Jim Lehrer lost control of the format, and you know, I don’t know whether it was because of that, or whether he’s thinking oh, my God, this time next year, I’m going to be doing the night shift on WZZZ, but all that stuff that makes these debates normally unwatchable, you know, you’ll have a 90 second pre-rebuttal of the third question’s rebuttal, and all that kind of thing, and they just had at it. And so Romney, that was a terrific alpha-male moment, not just…I mean, Big Bird, I don’t care. I loathe Big Bird. But skewering Jim Lehrer, wow. Super cool, man.
HH: Well, Romney brought his A game, but President Obama brought his grandma and Bill Clinton. And never before has a sitting president relied upon a former president’s record so he could avoid talking about his own record. It was a shambles for the left, and I think it comes down to this, Mark Steyn. There’s nothing he wants to talk about in specificity, except bin Laden, over the last four years. He’ll do anything to stay away from specifics.
MS: No, and he can’t really talk about bin Laden, because they’ll be lighting up American embassies from Tunis to Jakarta every time he does that. And so he’s got a problem here in that all his life, he’s run, I said this, I think it was in my column last week, all his life, when he was at the U.N. talking about the promise of the future, that’s what he’s run on all his life, at Harvard Law, as community organizer, state senator, senator, and president. And for the first time in his life, he’s got a four year albatross round his neck. And when Romney said hey, man, look, you’ve been president for four years…
HH: I know.
MS: That was a terrific line. I mean, Romney, nobody thinks of Romney as a kind of great personality comic or anything, but he had enough good lines that really landed. And Obama had no, and Obama didn’t even bother responding. The trickle-down government line’s a great line. He had no response to that.
HH: Last night, did something I didn’t think possible. It brought together the Republican conservative commentariat, from Bill Kristol to Rush Limbaugh, both of those saying last night and today, the best performance by a Republican in a presidential debate of their lifetime. So Mark Steyn, with 60-plus million people watching, we’ve never seen an event like this before. We’re in new ground, because never has one sitting president performed so badly, and a challenger performed so well. So what do you think it actually does to the race?
MS: Well, I think it makes the debates important. And this is why even Joe Biden must understand that next week’s debate, if Ryan clobbers Biden, if Ryan makes Biden look the buffoon that he is, then that momentum becomes extremely difficult. The reality is that Obama did not just under-perform. He under-performed in a particularly unlikable way.
MS: And it’s difficult to see, you know, it’s difficult to see where, yes, he can master the facts and he can master the lines. But a lot of this stuff is basic. You’ve done TV, I’ve done TV. You’ve been on stage, I’ve been on stage. And you always know that even when the other guy is talking, there’s a camera on you, and you’ve always got to be aware of how you look when you’re not talking. And just something as basic as that, he’s got the most…Axelrod and Plouffe are supposed to be geniuses, and all the guys around Romney are supposed to be dopes. So how come he looked like he belonged on that stage, and the other guy looked like this strange, shrunken, peevish, unpleasant man who didn’t want to be there?
HH: Let me play you two quick clips, Mark Steyn. This is Joe Biden today with another classic Biden liner.
JB: Obama and Biden want to raise taxes by a trillion dollars. Guess what? Yes, we do.
HH: So that’s Joe Biden’s candor moment. And then the President went out on two appearances today and he’s using this line of attack.
BO: Now the guy playing Mitt Romney last night says he loves education…
HH: The guy playing Mitt Romney last night, Mark Steyn. Does either Joe Biden promising to raise taxes or the President saying the guy playing Mitt Romney, does it work? We’ve got a minute left.
MS: No, he should have let that go. That is a truly pathetic line. And the trillion dollar stuff is just incredible from Biden at this stage. You know, that’s the thing. The policy…and last night, the policies and the personality were on the Republican side, and that is something that has not been, I don’t even know if that’s been true in the history of the republic. That’s amazing.
HH: It is amazing, and it could not have arrived at a better time. Mark Steyn, thank you for joining us. www.steynonline.com, America, for all of Mark’s work.
End of interview.