Both candidates went into the debates with the goal of looking Already President. Because many Americans simply wanted to believe they could trust the new guy, Obama won the first debate on those terms. Last night, it became clear that Obama's strategy was to spend the first debate as a calm, respectful presence and to open up more distinctions between the two candidates in the second. It also became clear that McCain's strategy was to assume he just couldn't possibly be losing to that punk kid. Conservatives are miserable that McCain lost last night. He pissed away the election! It was his last shot at winning! He never delivered the knock-out blow! He'd lost it already. Seriously. What could he have done, last night, that would've been a game-changer? Anything? He tried a stunt—"the Treasury Department will buy all the mortgages!"—but it just sounded like a stunt (also that is a great way to remind Republicans that they never liked you to begin with, by proposing a plan to the left of Obama). He was a little bit nicer, a bit jokier, but also much more critical of Obama in ways that made more sense than last time. What else could he have done? Magically appear 20 years younger? The only way to win this year on policy is to run to the left of the Democrats and the only way to win on character is to be more youthful and serious and new and comfortably familiar than Obama. McCain lost before he showed up. Once he showed up he looked old and tired. It'd be cruel to hand that man the presidency in a time like this. Tina Brown: "During the campaign McCain has aged dramatically. Like Dorian Gray, the bargains he has made with his conscience are reflected in the mirror. He has developed a strange Jimmy Cagney rasp and new verbal eccentricities that seem to have fused the speaking styles of Bob Dole and Ross Perot." John Heilemann: "He rattled around onstage looking slightly lost, making hokey jokes that fell flat in the hall, offering edgy barbs at Obama (and even Tom Brokaw!), and telling hoary stories that referenced Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, Tip O'Neill, and Herbert Hoover - historically significant figures who reinforced the image of the Arizona senator as yesterday's man." Rich Lowry: "I thought McCain was good. It's as passionate and well-informed as he's ever been on domestic policy. His debate briefers did their job well. I think he repeatedly scored points in the first hour, but they were jabs rather then crosses-blows that Obama could absorb." And it should be noted that at The Corner they are convinced the only way McCain could've won this was to bring up William Ayers over and over and over again, to paint Obama as a radical leftist and to somehow get Real Americans to Wake Up and realize that this guy isn't who he says he is. Fittingly, their dissatisfaction with their mediocre candidate totally mirrors McCain's obvious shock that people are taking this Obama guy seriously. And now that Obama's favorables are so high, now that everyone is pretty sure they do know this guy (the time to paint him as something foreign and secretly scary came months ago, and Obama passed that test just fine), trying to scare voters away from him just demonstrates your contempt for their judgment. You know, the sort of contempt liberals were all accused of feeling because we couldn't believe anyone would've voted for Bush. Everyone hates the voters! We're pretty sure there isn't a "game-changer" of any kind available to the McCain campaign, and the best they can hope for is some sort of catastrophic meltdown by Obama. We're also pretty sure our debate preview was totally right!
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