Everybody has their own ideas about what they saw last night, and no polls will have a full sample until Friday at the earliest. So ideas are all we have, and here are mine.
I heard on NPR that Barack Obama is fond of saying that he looks up to George H. W. Bush on foreign policy. That's why people say that on foreign policy and national security, Obama is closer to being a moderate Republican than even a conservative Democrat. The amusing instances of agreement between Obama and Mitt Romney last night illustrate that quite well. And it reinforces for the second time something that I saw on Twitter immediately after Obama's shellacking in Denver: Romney behaved like a moderate Republican former governor of Massachusetts.
That's why I believe Obama has had a difficult time separating himself from Romney in the debates, in polls reflecting the debates, and why Obama had such an easy time during the GOP primary. This is much closer to the real Mitt Romney, a moderate Republican that isn't especially different than a the conservative Democrat that Obama has been on so many important issues, really other than the economy. Taken to its final conclusion, Obama today and the real Mitt Romney even agree on top social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. If anything, Romney has been more liberal on social issues for most of his life than Obama has.
Their agreement on most aspects of foreign policy are what made the debate so dull and pointless from an intellectual aspect. Both candidates fought over who loves Israel more while saying nothing of suffering Palestinians, while Romney largely endorsed Obama's stance with Iran that between the lines, all but eliminated the possibility of an American first-strike, instead opting for sanctions that cripple the Iranian economy while doing nothing to halt or even slow it's nuclear program.
Yet neither candidate, nor the moderator in questioning, raised the ramifications of a military strike on Iran, either by the United States or Israel. Time Magazine looked into the issue earlier this month and concluded that such an attack would cause an environmental disaster exceeding Chernobyl that would maim and kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians, and probably entrench Iran and even accelerate weapons development that may not even be happening today. Remember, the last National Intelligence Estimate (a consensus report from over 17 American intelligence agencies) released said that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and it has been the public and official position of Israeli intelligence that Iran has not decided if it wants nuclear weapons.
Rather than discussing whether or not Iran -- rhetoric aside -- is even a threat to the Middle East and the United States (Iran currently has no capability to deliver a nuclear weapon inside the United States), Obama and Romney bragged about who would hurt Iranian civilians more by crippling their economy.
It was disgusting, to say the least. People were joking on Twitter that at times, especially about Iran, that Mitt Romney seemed like he was running to be Obama's Vice President.
But it was all notable for the fact that Mitt Romney abandoned the neo-conservative right, the Bill Kristols of the world, by seemingly taking preemptive military action off the table as a first-resort option. That perfectly captures Romney's fairly hard to turn to the left (towards the center) on virtually every issue in every debate. No longer do we hear overheated and stupid rhetoric that has become the hallmark of the modern GOP: that raising taxes on the rich is theft, that Obama's policies are that of a socialist, that the only course of action to take against Iran is to bomb it, that same-sex marriage will end civilization, etc.
I don't have the time to do this today, but I'd be very curious to see what head-to-head match-ups between Romney and Obama looked like during the GOP primary, and the period between the end of the primary and the first debate. I'd be willing to bet that Romney's abrupt left turn away from the Tea Party, away from Karl Rove and Bill Kristol, perfectly correlations with his rise in national polling and surges in swing states dominated by moderates and independents.
I also wouldn't mind taking Romney's statements from the third debate and comparing them letter by letter to what's on his campaign website, and what have been in his recent stump speeches.
There's probably a good case to be made that Romney's left turn -- an inarguable fact -- is what is going to save the Republican Party for the next 50 years, if it's understood and embraced. With Hispanics set to make Texas a majority Hispanic state within the next few decades and Hispanics (and high tech jobs) dragging North Carolina into being a purple state, perhaps on its way to turning blue, a turn back towards the center may be the only thing that keeps the GOP relevant. John McCain tried to be Bush 3.0 and it didn't work. Bachmann, Perry, and Santorum tried to go further right, towards the Tea Party, and that worked even less well. Romney went just as far to the right as he needed to go win the nomination and now has taken a hard left turn, and surged in polls everywhere to tie up a race that Obama had been dominating as recently as September.
The lesson of these three debates wasn't for who will win this election, but how the GOP saves itself. It's not about Romney's electoral path to victory, it's the GOP's path to not truly becoming a regional party of the south with power only when it can form British-style power sharing coalition between the far right, and conservative left, while the moderate left pairs with the middle and dominates for decades.
The last thing I want to talk about is the CNN focus group of undecided voters. Not the one they talk to after the debate, which is controlled and hand-up-the-ass-like-a-puppet'ed by CNN's hosts. The one (same people) that has little dial devices that control the graph at the bottom of the screen while the debate is live. The one that showed women at times breaking for Obama sky high, while men were up, but only by a little, while women often went negative while Romney spoke. The margin between Obama and Romney when Obama is tied or down by 1-3 points can often be attributed to Obama losing his big lead with women. If Obama can get that lead back, he'll get the national polling lead back and resume having a 2-4 point lead in most swing states.
Obama got them back in a big way last night with CNN's undecided group. If that performance translates to swing state undecideds on election day, Obama wins. Period. End of story. If he only wins women by 5-7 points, he's going to lose. Period. End of story.
So when trackers start picking up the debate on Friday, and through next week (Tuesday for Gallup I think), and national polls (and especially state polls for Ohio, Virginia, and Iowa) start rolling in, forget the topline. Forget Obama vs. Romney. Look at women. If Obama turns +5-7 amongst women into +7-15, that's the ballgame.