Wednesday night's debate was a pretty clear victory for Mitt Romney. But that's only because, while he came off badly at times, President Barack Obama came off worse. I know we have a job opening to fill, but is it too late to ask for more applicants?
With a few exceptions here and there, neither Romney nor Obama seemed like he was ready to do battle. We know they can fight. Look at what Romney did to his primary opponents -- Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum. Remember how Obama went after Hillary Clinton, dismissing her as "likeable enough?"
What about those one or two zingers we're always told debaters have tucked away in their back pockets, ready to spring on their opponents -- "You're no Jack Kennedy," "There you go again," etc? There was none of that. Instead, there were lots of facts and figures, in this matchup that only a policy wonk could love.
The candidate were so nice to each other. They even stayed on stage after the debate was over to mingle, as President and Mrs. Obama exchanged pleasantries with the Romney Brady Bunch.
When you listen to what these two men say about one another on the stump, or in media interviews, it's clear that they don't like each other. But there was no trace of that in this debate. And I'm not sure how helpful that was, in terms of letting each man show flashes of that one quality essential to leadership: passion.
Next time, let's hope they engage each other more directly, go on the attack and do a better job of drawing contrasts. Let's have fewer pie charts and more fireworks. After all, in a forum like this, half the job is showing why you should be president; the other half is showing why your opponent shouldn't be.
Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.
LZ Granderson: Sound, fury and still no specifics from Romney
If you were looking for a knockout punch, there wasn't one.
If you were hoping for a couple of zingers to remember, then you were likely disappointed.
If you went to bed wondering "what was President Obama doing?" then allow me to explain: He was being himself.
Ever since he came onto the national scene at the Democratic National Convention way back in 2004, he has consistently of the shown that he's a very thoughtful, introspective man. Some like to use the word "professsorial" as if there was something wrong with being intelligent.
Sure, fire and brimstone can move a crowd but when the embers cool, you have got to have substance. And that is what this debate was about -- substance. True, there were openings during the debate that seem prime for a "47%" or "Bain Capital" line, but the president opted to stick to a script that hewed primarily to one thing: the lack of details in Mitt Romney's plans.
Did that approach work? Well, it depends on what the desired results were.
It certainly didn't fire up his base; in fact, considering how good Romney was -- and there were definitely moments in which he appeared presidential -- I'm sure the president's approach was unnerving to his supporters. But the president never seem unnerved himself.
He would just write down some notes, smile and ask for Romney for details. What would you cut? What parts of Dodd-Frank would you keep? What would you replace Obamacare with? Details that Romney failed to provide for 90 minutes.
So yes, Romney did better than expected but he didn't give voters what they need: the specifics of his plans. He said things would be better with him, but he didn't explain how.
Which loopholes would he close? Which deductions would he remove? Which cuts would he make?
This is why the president would calmly, methodically talk about the mathematical impossibility of Romney's tax plan, explain why he made the decisions he did, take some notes, smile and think. Like he's always done.
He didn't knock Romney out as many had hoped. Instead he put a spotlight on him so voters could see just how little substance there really is. Romney made a big deal about cutting PBS funding as a way to rope in spending. He didn't mention that doing so represents a saving of one one-hundredth of 1% of the nation's budget. Nice work there Mitt. ... I feel better already.
LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs
Alex Castellanos: Romney brings it
We learned an important lesson in the first 2012 general election debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama: Presidential candidates should never debate on their wedding anniversary.
Barack Obama's weak performance set up the best night of Mitt Romney's campaign, a victory Romney needed to keep the race close and keep contributions flowing. Romney won the night.
President Obama indulged in the weakest possible strategy: defense. It is a strategy that does not score points but allows your opponent to do so. Over the next few days, the bright minds on Obama's campaign will have to explain Obama's intended plan of attack because the president himself gave us no evidence of it. As my CNN panel-mate, the almost always wrong but eternally entertaining James Carville explained tonight, Barack Obama debated like a man who didn't want to be there.