WASHINGTON — No mystery about the trajectory of this race. It was static for months as President Obama held a marginal lead. Then came the conventions. The Republicans squandered Tampa; the Democrats got a 3- to 4-point bounce out of Charlotte.
And kept it. Until the first debate. In 90 minutes, Mitt Romney wiped out the bump — and maybe more.
Democrats are shellshocked and left searching for excuses. Start with scapegoats: the hapless John Kerry, Obama's sparring partner in the practice debates, for going too soft on the boss; then the debate moderator for not exerting enough control.
The Obama campaign's plea that the commander in chief could find no shelter under Jim Lehrer's desk did not exactly bolster Obama's standing. Moreover, the moderator's job is not to control the flow of argument, but to simply enforce an even time split.
Lehrer did. In fact, Obama took more time than Romney — 4 1/2 minutes more — while actually speaking 500 fewer words. Romney knew what he thought and said it. Obama kept looking around hoping for the words to come to him. They didn't.
After the scapegoats came the excuses.
1. Obama had a bad night. He was off his game.
Nonsense. This is Obama's game. Great at delivering telepromptered addresses to adoring Germans and swooning students. But he's not very good on his feet.
His problem is that he doesn't think so. He not only believes his own press, he believes his own mythology. He actually said (in 2007): “I think that I'm a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And … I'm a better political director than my political director.”
He needs a servant in his chariot reminding him that he's not an immortal. He's neither lord nor commoner. He's just an above-average politician who needs a very good night in one of the next two debates.
2. He was weighed down by the burdens of office.