October 4th, 2012 | University

First Reactions: Presidential Debate

U.S. President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney
U.S. President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney Photo by Yuval Ben-David.

I caught the second half of the presidential debate last night. But even then, after a long day of classes, I caught myself unable to focus on anything but Romney’s hair.

Generally, I’m a more political creature, but last night, maybe because of its statistics-heavy topic — the economy — my mind wandered away from the debate to more timeless questions like, “Will breakfast be better tomorrow?”

So, out of my obligations to be an informed citizen, and my obligation to impress upon my political philosophy professor that I actually am an informed citizen, I emailed a group of campus political leaders to get their opinions of the debate. Their responses, in full, are below:

Zak Newman ’13, president of the Yale College Democrats

It was heartening to see both candidates go into some depth on policy issues. However, Romney seemed to stick to the same baseless attacks on Obamacare, the Dodd-Frank bill and on the President’s economic policy that we’ve been hearing for some time even after the President’s disassembly of each piece by piece.

Judging from tonight, Romney wants us to believe that we can all have our cake and eat it too if we vote for him: budget cuts that will be painless and have no impact on services for people that need them, no tax cuts ever that will add to the deficit, spontaneous economic growth with lower taxes. But where’s the beef?

Elizabeth Henry ’14, chair of the Yale College Republicans

Romney definitely won tonight’s debate hands down. I was watching it with a group of Pi Phis — a mix of Republicans and Democrats — and everybody agreed that Romney was on fire tonight. All I can say is his debate prep team did an amazing time. This is a fiery yet calm Romney that we didn’t see in the primary debates – and I like it! It’s just what he needed. To me, Obama just seemed like the fight had gone out of him.

Alex Isper ’14, chair of the Federalist Party of the Yale Political Union

From the onset of the debate it felt like President Obama was off his game and Governor Romney was able to capitalize in a major way. While some will criticize Romney for constantly steamrolling the moderator, it was a tactic that stopped President Obama from being able to pick up any momentum. Romney kept Obama on the ropes throughout the debate, balancing confident responses to questions with well-timed zingers. Romney’s performance was one that all Republicans can be proud of and one that will add new life to a campaign that looks to revive the hopes and dreams of a generation. Tonight, Governor Romney showed that he is willing and able to be the leader of the greatest country in the history of the world – something that cannot be said about the performance of his counterpart.

Eric Stern ’15, communications director for the Yale College Democrats

The President clearly laid out his plan for protecting students, minorities and the middle class, as well as ensuring that the progress we’ve made in the last four years continues. Governor Romney, on the other hand, was polished and aggressive, to be sure, but his performance was more notable for its stunning lack of specifics, mischaracterizations and outright falsehoods …

All night, Romney tiptoed around the far-right policies he has endorsed while the President clearly explained his common-sense plans and vision for a stronger, more stable America. In the few short minutes since the debate ended, Romney’s assertions about taxes, the deficit, healthcare and education have been challenged by experts across the political spectrum. More than anything else, this debate clarified for many students the need to get excited about supporting President Obama, get involved in the campaign and, most of all, get out the vote!

Elaina Plott ’15, chief whip of the Tory Party of the Yale Political Union

I thought Governor Romney tonight gave the performance Republicans had been waiting for. He was vibrant, articulate, and tackled each question with confidence. Obama, on the other hand, appeared ill-prepared and generally unenthused to be there. Put simply, Romney looked more presidential than the President. But in the end, what this debate did was showcase two incredibly different visions for America, and Romney was unafraid to point out that Obama’s just doesn’t stack up.

Ella Wood ’15, vice chairman of the Independent Party of the Yale Political Union

I’m no fan of Mitt Romney, but I thought he had a strong showing at the debate tonight. Two versions of Romney have dominated the public perception: the bland Romneybot and the unreliable, policy-free flip-flopper. To varying degrees, he effectively combatted both images. He projected much more charisma than he has thus far in the campaign, through both his demeanor and the greatly touted “zingers.” He also communicated his policy proposals more clearly than before, particularly those pertaining to the tax code and the deficit, and hammered home a narrative of Obama’s presidency that may be convincing to voters.

Gavin Schiffres ’15, chief whip of the Conservative Party of the Yale Political Union

I think Romney won the debate tonight (though I am not saying he should have — I want to fact-check a number of claims on both sides before I advocate that). Through a number of nuanced responses, Romney came off as eminently reasonable, like that rarest of creatures in politics: a responsible adult. He avoided common Republican pitfalls by distinguishing different markets when discussing regulation, acknowledging the free market needed some oversight, and promising only tax and spending cuts we could afford. Romney stood behind a record of working with Democrats in Massachusetts, as well as his time in the private sector. Above all, he insisted on breaking his vision of the future down step by step (often dragging the audience through point after point along the way). It was here, I thought, that Romney shined in contrast to President Obama. Whereas Romney appeared to respect the intellectual faculties of the American people (again, haven’t checked his facts yet), Obama often appeared to try and pander to their emotions. The “moving” stories of Obama’s working-class grandmother, or that hard-working woman he met in that place that one time, just don’t move us as much anymore. His inspiration is so hackneyed that it now feels like a diversion, and diversions show weakness. Obama had a solid night, but he was average, trite, in short, a politician. While Romney’s bickering over “the final word” detracted from his performance, I still came away from the debate feeling that tonight, Romney displayed more maturity— the kind I would expect from a president.