The consensus seems to be that Romney won the debate last night. I think it was a slight victory in terms of debate performance. But, in terms of significance, a slight victory is more than it sounds. Romney hasn’t had much of a chance to speak directly to the American people. He has been mediated by spin for a year. A good performance last night can make up for a lot of that, and help overcome some of the advantages that all incumbents necessarily have.

Romney got a full five minutes less in airtime than the president, and often had to struggle to get rebuttals in. Jim Lehrer was, frankly, superfluous. I would much prefer a Lincoln-Douglas style debate, or even a simple conversation. Put the two men on stage, sit them down with a timer, and let them simply talk directly to Americans. Jim Lehrer contributed nothing (and, by the nature of his position, could contribute nothing), and detracted much. It’s time we change the way these debates work.

The president’s biggest weakness was his inability to stay focused. Gov. Romney subtly mocked this at one point. The president didn’t seem to know for sure what he was trying to say. He was forced — and willingly accepted — to defend the IPAB! When you’re defending the IPAB, you’re doing it wrong.

The president seems to think that it’s 2008 again, and not because he talked about George Bush (he didn’t mention that unutterable name, like Voldemort). Why hasn’t he done the things he says we ought to do? It’s not good enough simply to say that the Republicans control the House of Representatives: For the first two years, Obama had his hands on all the levers of the federal government. And even if the Republicans did control Congress, why is the president so weak that he can do nothing despite it? Why won’t there be four more years of gridlock if he’s reelected? The president’s complaints about the existence of Republicans in Congress sounds a lot like “this job is too hard for me.”

CBS assembled 500 people for a poll after the debate: Romney won by a 2 to 1 margin. He did a great job, and should take a great deal of confidence with him on the campaign trail.
The vice presidential debate is next, on Oct. 11. I can’t wait.