Unless Kerry melts into a puddle on the floor, the media spin will be that he did well and helped his campaign. This is for two reasons. One is, as Newsweek's Evan Thomas remarked, that the press "wants Kerry to win."The other reason, Glenn says, is that the media wants a horse race. But that's twaddle, the kind of thing Chris Matthews thinks is profound. Think CBS was desperate to believe anything about Busg in the Guard because they want a horse race?
Look, neither one of these guys will stray far enough from talking points to get into any trouble. This will be a game of millimeters. My prediction, similar to Glenn's, is this: Think back to the 2000 debates. Remember how painfully silly Gore looked and sounded? Recall, too, that the center-left media was quick to declare the debates ties, with perhaps a technical victory on debating points each time to Gore. Meanwhile, the entire country was chuckling over Gore's rouge, heavy breathing, and stage-stalking alpha male posturing. Slowly, the CW on the debates changed, settling on the "Bush won because of lowered expectations" line. Four years later, everyone knows that Gore flat out lost those debates because he acted like somebody you'd like to "to quote Bill Buckley) "sock in the mouth." At the time, though, the best the press could offer was that "nobody gained any ground."
My guess is that 2004 will be about the same, and that Karl Rove is doing all he can to make it so.