Peggy Noonan - wrong again...
The October 3 debate in Denver, between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, was the seminal moment of this campaign. And Peggy Noonan, in her analysis, gets what happened there exactly backwards.
Why was the first debate so toxic for the president? Because the one thing he couldn't do if he was going to win the election is let all the pent-up resentment toward him erupt. Americans had gotten used to him as The President. Whatever his policy choices, whatever general direction he seemed to put in place he was The President, a man who had gotten there through natural gifts and what all politicians need, good fortune.What happened in Denver had nothing to do with Barack Obama. It was never going to be - he's been the President for four years, with all of his speeches and actions, and their consequences. People's feelings about Obama and the job he's done are essentially set, not to be significantly changed by one more 90 minute television appearance. No, the debate was all about Mitt Romney.
What he couldn't do was present himself, when everyone was looking, as smaller than you thought. Petulant, put upon, above it all, full of himself. He couldn't afford to make himself look less impressive than the challenger in terms of command, grasp of facts, size.
But that's what he did.
The Obama campaign, recognizing that things are not going well, has spent the last year attempting to define Mitt Romney in such a way as to render him unacceptable to the majority of voters. The impact of Denver did not come from Obama's behavior, but from Romney's. In one night, he destroyed the caricature that the Obama campaign had spent a year building.
The threat to Obama's re-election was never the President's behavior. It was always the bad economy and an acceptable alternative. Mitt Romney's performance in Denver told the American people that there was not only an acceptable alternative, but one who knew how to deal with the bad economy. Obama's behavior - "petulant, put upon, above it all, full of himself" - didn't really show until the next two debates. And it's behavior that he's been demonstrating for his entire time on the public stage. The difference in Denver was that there was a contrast for everyone to see.