Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Third Presidential Debate: Bush Crushed Kerry

The title says it all. Bush's performance tonight was the campaign equivalent of Lance Armstrong's domination of a mountain stage on the Tour de France. Bush's performance looked effortless, while Kerry strained and struggled. My favorite part of the debate (and the most telling, in my opinion) was a Bush follow-up where he pointed out that Kerry voted against the '91 Iraq War:

In 1990, there was a vast coalition put together to run Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The international community, the international world said this is the right thing to do, but when it came time to authorize the use of force on the Senate floor, my opponent voted against the use of force.

Apparently you can't pass any test under his vision of the world.
The TV coverage had a split screen up during this follow-up, and to say Kerry looked pained is an understatement. This was the debating equivalent of a short, hard right to the gut.

I'd say the debate was the exact opposite of the first presidental debate, where Kerry won on style while Bush won on substance, except that Kerry lost both on style and on substance. From the beginning Bush painted Kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal to the left of Ted Kennedy who had accomplished absolutely nothing of worth in his two decades in the Senate. The Bush money quote:

You know, there's a main stream in American politics and you sit right on the far left bank. As a matter of fact, your record is such that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator from Massachusetts.
Kerry tried to duck and got pasted. Kerry tried to run and got pasted. Kerry dragged in Cheney's daughter to deflect attention away from himself—truly a despicable tactic—and ended up looking petty and mean. In the meantime, Bush continually put the rhetorical boots to him. After enduring a beating for ninety minutes, Kerry truly looked grateful for the chance to get offstage.

Even Kerry's spinmeisters were dismayed, saying that "at the least, Kerry got two wins and a draw" over the three debates. As at the last debate, when your team says you got a draw, that means they think you lost. Despite their spin, the Kerry camp knows that the only good debate for Kerry was the first one... and it wasn't that good. Kerry's debate record is now 1-2 and the Kerry campaign is at 1-3, a losing one in anyone's book.

When you consider that Kerry lost, on substance and on style, the debate which was supposed to favor him the most, there is no other reasonable conclusion than Kerry was crushed. His high point in the polls was before the Cheney-Edwards debate, and he's been losing ground ever since. He will only go down in the polls henceforth.

This race was Kerry's to lose. To win, Kerry had to convince a majority of the voters two things: that Bush doesn't deserve re-election and that Kerry is an acceptable choice for president. He failed to do so, and never was that more apparent than tonight. A skillful opponent, say for example a Bill Clinton, most likely would be able to wrest the presidency from the incumbent (for the same reasons Clinton was able to defeat Bush 41 in '92). Kerry is not that skillful.

Fred Barnes has an interesting aside at the bottom of his debate analysis article over at The Weekly Standard:

Now here's a strange twist on the debate. Bush was the winner in a focus group of uncommitted voters conducted by pollster Frank Luntz last night. The 23 voters thought Kerry, not Bush, won the debate. But they split 17 to 5 in favor of Bush on whom they now plan to vote for (one will vote Libertarian). "They still don't trust what John Kerry is saying," Luntz said, though they thought he said it well.
What good are debating skills when people are more concerned about character? And who really won, if three-fourths of the undecideds in this poll group have gone over to Bush?

This debate continues the trend. Game, set, and match for President Bush.

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