Bush was, obviously, much improved from last weeks performance. He was obviously more comfortable than Kerry. He was funnier, more at ease among "the people." (All of Kerry's attempts at humor, on the other hand, landed with a clang.) So give this one to Bush. He was in his element. That said, both were wooden when nudged off their talking points, Kerry incoherently so. I don't think many minds were changed last night.
High points: 1) Kerry quoting Potter Stewart about how a well written court opinion is one in which you can't tell if it was wrtitten by "a man or a woman; a Muslim, a Jew, or a Christian; a Harvard faculty member or a backhoe operator; my mother or a household pet." Something like that. Whatever, I'm pretty sure that's not what Stewart said. 2) Bush's weird posture. 3) Kerry saying "Go figure!" at the end of one of his incoherent spells. 4) Bush's stark inability, after Kerry repeatedly took credit for the 90s economic boom (but not the bubble), to say, "Senator, if you think the government, rather than hard-working Americans, made that economy grow, you definitely shouldn't be president." 5) Kerry: "I was in Kyoto." On his way back from Cambodia, no doubt. 6) Bush, on a Kerry answer: "That answer made me want to scowl." 7) Kerry again invokes Reagan as a foreign policy leader of great merit, one Kerry himself would seek to imitate. Look up the Congressional Record for Kerry's first term. He was the Rufus T. Firefly of Reagan's Cold War policy: Whatever it is, I'm against it!
And now, to the partisans: Ryan Lizza at TNR says, naturally, that Kerry won handily. Why?
Here is the simplest way to figure out who won the debate last night: When you went to bed, were you thinking more about Bush or Kerry? I was concentrating on the president. I kept thinking about the way he was yelling through the first half of the debate. I couldn't get the picture of him during the cutaway shots out of my head--that blinking blank face, obviously trying hard not to make any of those funny expressions from the first debate.That seems like a good way to score a debate . . . when no other scoring rubric can put your boy on top. And here's Hugh Hewitt on how much ass Bush kicked. Hewitt at least has an argument. But, again, I say little changed last night. This election will come down to (as Kerry would say) "gut check time" in the voting booth. That calculus favors Bush, I think.