You knew Mitt Romney had won the presidential debate at the University of Denver last night when MSNBC commentators Chris Matthews and Ed Schultz -- pundits whose progressive tilt isn't exactly a secret -- seemed so mad they were practically spitting the second the ninety-minute face-off was over. It was the sort of thing Stephen Colbert had hyped in humorous fashion as the "Up-ender in Denver" the night before, but the results were no joke.
While the campaign of Barack Obama tried to lower expectations about the president's performance, the average person likely figured that given his awesome speaking skills, he'd mop the floor with Mitt. Instead, Romney reversed this curse, at least from a stylistic standpoint. Could the results put Denver in the position of unmaking the presidency of a man the city helped to put there in the first place?
Granted, plenty went into Obama's 2008 victory. But if there was a single event that made his election not only seem possible but inevitable, it was his appearance at Mile High Stadium to accept the Democratic presidential nomination. The spectacular setting and his confident demeanor galvanized his followers in a way that rolled through election day like history of the most inexorable sort.
Last night, in contrast, Obama came across as hesitant, halting and caught off-guard by Romney's tactics, which pretty much revolved around spinning, obfuscating or downright reversing his positions on taxes, Social Security and lots more in a manner that suggested he'd felt that way all along, and anyone who claimed otherwise was simply confused. It was a brilliantly cynical strategy aimed directly at undecided voters -- the kind who haven't been paying much attention to the race up until now and make their decisions based more on gut instinct than on facts and figures.
At today's planned rally in Denver, and during commercials that should start rolling out anytime now, Obama will no doubt highlight the contradictions in Romney's statements. But because he didn't do so in real time last night -- or at least failed to do it more forcefully and persuasively when given the opportunity -- he's allowed Mitt to climb off the mat and become the sort of plausible November winner Matthews and Schultz probably couldn't envision after the infamous 47 percent comment -- which Obama somehow managed not to mention on the DU stage.
If Romney is elected, he'll likely have October 3, 2012 in Denver to thank.
Here are a couple of segments from last night's debate.
More from our Lists & Weirdness archive: "Denver presidential debate memes perfect for master debaters."