Conservatives trumpet the new Mitt Romney; liberals try to move on

It's the morning after, and President Obama has a mean debate hangover.

Liberals and conservatives across the Web and television slammed Obama for what's been deemed by most a surprisingly disappointing performance during the first presidential debate, continuing a conversation that began the moment the spin room opened on Wednesday night.

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The consensus was no better for the president in the daylight: Mitt Romney trounced him.

Conservatives and liberals seemed to agree that Obama's poor performance was due to the fact that he was rusty after four years of no debates, but conservatives, like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), speaking on "Fox and Friends," also said Obama had been coddled by "four years inside the bubble with an adoring media."

"If it were a fight, they would've stopped it," he said of the debate.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Obama faltered simply because he had little he could defend against Romney's strong offense.

“When you have no record to run on, it’s very difficult as the incumbent to then come out there and combat what Gov. Romney did last night,” Christie said on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

But more than criticize the opponent, conservatives seemed excited at the new and improved Romney who revealed himself Wednesday night. Christie said that Romney’s performance shouldn’t really have come as a surprise, as he had foreshadowed it during the primary debates months before.

“Every time in this campaign when Mitt Romney had his back up against the wall, and then had a debate, he came out and had a game-changing debate. Ask Rick Perry. Ask Newt Gingrich. Every time, he’s done it,” he said on MSNBC.

Conservative commentator Mark Hemingway, writing at the Weekly Standard, titled the debate "Romney's Denver Debate Demolition," and columnist William Kristol wondered if last night was "the beginning of the end" for Obama in a post on the magazine's site. He compared Romney's performance to that of Ronald Reagan during a pivotal debate against Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Conservative magazine National Review splashed "Mitt the Superb" across its homepage, and Jonah Goldberg, writing at the magazine's The Corner blog, wrote that it was Romney's best moment since announcing his pick for vice president.

"This is the first time since he picked Paul Ryan that a broad majority of conservatives are openly happy and encouraged by Romney (and there weren’t too many other such times). I certainly feel buoyed by his performance tonight," he said.

Liberals, perhaps realizing it to be a losing battle, did not defend their candidate’s performance. Instead they dove into fact-checks of Romney's, with liberal site Think Progress outlining “Romney’s 27 debate myths in 38 minutes” and liberal magazine Salon splashing an article titled “Mitt’s $5 trillion evasion” across the top of its homepage.

While most avoided criticism of Obama, it seemed difficult to avoid discussing “missed opportunities,” as the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore wrote in a post on how “Mitt gets away with it -- for now.”

“I lost count of the missed opportunities for Obama last night, and I realize a lot of this represents 20/20 hindsight. But if Obama’s goal coming in had been to expose Romney’s dishonesty, he sure passed up some ripe targets,” he wrote.

But Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, speaking on CNN’s "Starting Point," seemed to echo the underlying sentiment among liberals: It was bad, but we’ve got to move on.

“I've been in these debates, and always, it seems that the challenger has an edge in that very first debate,” he said. “He’s on stage with the incumbent, so there’s always a certain overcoming of the low expectations for the challenger. But there’s still two more rounds coming up in these debates.”