What History Tells Us About Obama’s Chances Now

Romney may have pulled a JFK in the first debate, but the race is still Obama's to lose, and will be very close

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Paul Schutzer / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Presidential candidates John F. Kennedy, left, and Richard M. Nixon, right, in the first televised presidential debate in 1960

Even Richard Nixon‘s mother thought he was sick. After the first televised presidential debate in American history on Monday, Sept. 26, 1960 — a contest in which a legendarily tanned and cool John F. Kennedy appeared to best a legendarily wan and perspiring Richard M. Nixon — many observers called it even on points. Stylistically, however, Nixon lost so badly that Hannah Nixon reached out to her son.

“It is a devastating commentary on the nature of television as a political medium that what hurt me the most in the first debate was not the substance of the encounter between Kennedy and me, but the disadvantageous contrast in our physical appearances,” Nixon wrote in his 1978 memoir. “After the program ended, callers, including my mother, wanted to know if anything was wrong, because I did not look well.”

(PHOTOS: The Kennedy-Nixon Debates: Game Changers)

In roughly the same way, even President Obama’s closest allies were left wondering what had happened to their man last week in Denver, and worrying about what he’ll do to recover through the rest of October. At least Nixon had the comfort of having fought Kennedy fairly even on the substance — a comfort that Obama does not have as the President prepares for his second and third rounds with a victorious Mitt Romney.

In political lore, the Kennedy-Nixon showdown decided the race for JFK. A closer look at the history of the fall of 1960 suggests to me, however, that the central lesson of the whole story of the Kennedy-Nixon debates is that such evenings tend to affirm, not transform, the trajectory of a presidential campaign. Which means the campaign is still Obama’s to lose.

This is in no way to take anything away from Romney’s brilliant performance. But I have long believed that the Republican ticket is running closer to the Democratic one than polls show. The effect of the Romney victory in Denver was to make his strengths as a candidate clearer to a greater number of people, and I continue to think that this election will be close to the very end.

(MORE: Meacham: Is Romney Doomed? Not Yet)

So any Republicans who believe that their man just pulled a JFK and will now march to the White House should pause, if briefly, to consider the details of the fall of 1960. Before the first debate, Kennedy led Nixon 51% to 49% in the Gallup survey. Three debates followed. In the second, Nixon, in the words of the New York Times that he quoted in his memoirs, “clearly made a comeback, came out ahead.” By the end of the series, Nixon believed that the debates “had little significant effect on the outcome of the election,” and indeed the final popular vote percentage, 49.7% to 49.6%, was not much changed from where the numbers had been before the two faced off.

This shouldn’t be read as a dismissal or a minimization of Romney’s resurgence. Quite the opposite: if I’m right that this race has been evenly divided despite the preponderance of the polls after the two conventions, then the Denver performance may come to be seen as the first public manifestation of a stronger-than-expected Republican challenge to the President. If Obama wins re-election, then the polls were more accurate than my private opinion. As in 1960, we are a divided country whose presidency is being sought by two ferociously competitive men — and that ferocious competition will, I think, grow only more so.

MORE: Political Truths Are Not Black and White

189 comments
sgtsilk
sgtsilk

When is he going to tell America what is he running on? If I was voting for Mr. Romney which I am not, I would like to know the details. Would you sign a contract if you did not know the terms are conditions for the deal that he was offering you? 

I do not know why people is believing the many lies of Romney, I know so many people will not vote for his because of his race and there issues.

sm1wthabrain
sm1wthabrain

 I would like to know

"Which Romney?" On several 

issues!  Which Romney? There seem

to be several Mitt Romneys each of whom believes and saysdifferent things but which of them

is actually running for office? I guess it would be polite to wait for him to

make up his mind but time is running out. Which Mitt should we believe?  One Mitt has implied that the others are liars.

 Ask loud.  Ask often. 

Which Romney?  Can either of them

or maybe two or three of them be trusted?

Spengler47
Spengler47

US society in 1960 wasn't nearly as divided a societyas it is today. The decade of the 1950's was a decade of consensus that lasted into the early 1960's. Nobody talked about culture wars. The campaign fought between Nixon and Kennedy was basically a battle between gentlemen without the bitter ad hominem attacks you see today. I can still remember a pamphlet touted on TV in the early 1960's called "Goals for Americans." The assumption was that all Americans could unite around certain national goals. The report carried the endorsements of presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. That wouldn't happen today.

ralph.dratman
ralph.dratman

@Spengler47 Agreed. Culture war was not on the scene in 1960. Yet only eight years later, when police were battling anti-war hippies in Chicago, and the "hard hat vote" (not actually a demographic but purely a cultural phenomenon) was first being aroused, culture war, like Frankenstein's monster, had been loosed upon the land.

What happened between 1960 and 1968? Possibly the greatest factor (though there were many) was the effective martyrdom of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. In my mind it is impossible to imagine a voting rights bill and related civil rights legislation passing in 1965 if Kennedy had not been assassinated two years earlier.

FredFilopek
FredFilopek

Thats the problem debating righties on foreign policy . When the questions is asked

Exactly what mitt would do differently then Obama there is dead silence. I will be up till midnight if anyone can. Come up with something.

FredFilopek
FredFilopek

You are right man app we should have been out of Afghanistan years ago but you will get to watch your football game without fear this weekend. You failed to answer the. Question of what mitt would do differently than obama on foreign policy . There are only two choices that mitt would face if elected .More bluster and threats or war which one do you think would be more helpful? I am willing to bet you have no one close to you that is in the military . Chicken hawks seldom do

douglasjohn
douglasjohn

Obama will lose because he is a failure and the debate showed the emperor has no clothes.

sgtsilk
sgtsilk

@douglasjohn 

What will Romney do different beside outsource more American jobs and be a rubber stamper for all of the Special interest groups that will be looking for there pay offs?

Big Oil, Wall street. Mr. Sheldon, Donal Trump, Mr. Rove and all of those other Faux racists?

oldwhiteguy
oldwhiteguy

I'm not so concerned with the "loss" in the debate, although Obama did indeed lay down in the road for that one.  No, I'm concerned with the bogus dewy-eyed "move to the center" that Romney is now very cleverly attempting to pull off.  It's a classic last minute dodge, trying to wipe all the right-wing froth off his pin striped suit before the voters realize it's just another shuffle-off-to-Buffalo by the big money boy.  Hopefully, Biden will come armed with facts and the will to use them when he squares off against the Catholic Deer Hunter on Thursday.

And hopefully Obama will get his mojo back next week.  For health care, the deficit, women's rights, the division of wealth and the threat of starting yet more wars in the middle East,  putting Williard-Koch-Adelson-Trump-Welch-Alkin-Romney into the White House would be a disaster for this country.

FredFilopek
FredFilopek

How many more wars do you want to fight Dan? Do you have anyone close in the military? Didn't think. So . What's mitt plan ? More bluster ? Or war ? Those are the two choices if mitt the chicken hawk is elected. Obama has kept us safe hasn't he Dan . Isn't that why you voted to reelect bush the dumber. He kept us safe.

manapp99
manapp99

So you think the escalation of the war in Afghanistan is keeping us safe? Tell that to the families of the 2000 troops killed what a great job Obama is doing keeping us safe. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 Perhaps if Bush had focused on Afghanistan in the first place instead of getting us into Iraq this wouldn't be such a problem.

swr112261
swr112261

Wrong. Gallup has it as a tie.

KC Oracle
KC Oracle

Gallup is tied on registered voters.  That means Romney is up 2 to 5% in likely voters, depending on turnout.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 Translation- We hope our voter suppression tactics work.

swr112261
swr112261

You are actually saying Obama is more I intelligent than Romney? Get that man off of the TelePrompTer and , uh, we will, uh, see, um, how bright he really, uh, is.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 Bright enough to avoid offending our biggest ally during a routine trip to England

Joan
Joan

It's obvious that you have never watched Obama or investigated all of

his lies. Every time Obama opens his mouth he lies. Give me one example

of a Romney lie... just one. Make sure that it is a statement uttered

to deceive.I

am beautiful woman and I love good man…..inter racial romance is my dream… so I

joined —blackwhitePlanet.С0M—–it's where to- connect with

beautiful and excellent people! The media is reporting them on many sites/papers and have been since

Thursday.  Also, there is an article in the HP today fact-checking his

speech today which is also full of  lies.  Obaman may have made promises

he couldn't keep, but he hasn't been lying to us.

 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 Good to know that Romney has the "Internet Spammer" vote locked up.

danshays
danshays

..."the race is still Obama's to lose..."

And of that, He seems perfectly capable.

I wouldn't be as concerned with 0bama's debate performance as I would with His job performance. Despite all the spin and excuse making, both from the White House and their media allies, the "recovery" remains elusive.

Oh, and there's that whole Benghazi thing... and the Chinese are looking to settle some old scores... oh, and don't tell the White House, but Turkey and Syria are at war.

Other than that He's done a bang up job. Four more years!!!

P.S. Osama bin Laden is still dead.

K2KR
K2KR

Too late Jon. He already done lost it!

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

Another Romney Lie : " Romney attacked Obama because the Affordable Care Act reduces Medicare spending by $716 billion. As you probably know by now, Paul Ryan’s budget made the exact same cut. And less than a year ago, Romney was praising this budget to the hilt."

cken
cken

 Hopefully this will come up in the VP debate and you will be able to understand the inaccuracy of what you just posted.

danshays
danshays

 You can speculate all you like about what the Romney/Ryan ticket will bring, but you cannot speculate what the past four years have brought; hence the old let's pretend the last four years didn't happen approach by the 0bama camp.

FORWARD!

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 The only thing the Romney/Ryan ticket will bring us is a repeat of Bush/Cheyney. Government spending up, Government revenue down and unpaid for wars.

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

Romney Lie --  "President Obama repeatedly described Romney’s tax plan as a $5 trillion tax plan. Romney repeatedly took exception. The figure is correct. Romney has not given many details about his tax plan, but it’s possible to extrapolate from his promises and the Tax Policy Center, a project of the Brookings Institution and Urban Institute, did just that. Crunching the numbers, they determined that his proposed rate cut would cost… $5 trillion.

Romney has said he would offset those cuts by closing loopholes. The Tax Policy Center has analyzed that promise and found that it is mathematically impossible, unless Romney raises taxes on the middle class or lets his tax plan increase the deficit—neither of which Romney has said he's willing to do"

cken
cken

 To extrapolate is to use a set of assumptions to reach a preordained conclusion.

manapp99
manapp99

Yep. Instead of assuming what Romney would do they could have just picked up the phone. But that would not produce the numbers Obama needed to spin the plan. So out comes the study from an Obama supporter at the Tax Policy Institute and voila...every Dem falls over themselves proclaiming it factual. Months of ads proclaiming the false numbers and Romney swats it down in one 90 minute debate. All that wasted money on false ads could have employed many teachers but it is clear that Obama needs the money more. Right? 

Political
Political

Does Romney have a "dog" of a chance?

muttsformitt.blogspot.com

or

muttsagainstmitt.blogspot.com

YOU DECIDE!

danshays
danshays

Where I a Canis lupus familiaris, I think I would rather be on the roof of a car than on the roof of a mouth; even if the mouth in question belongs to the current president. You are aware that 0bama has eaten dog, are you not. I'm sure you've got a ready-made excuse, either way.

FORWARD!

ProfessorPolecat
ProfessorPolecat

Republican hatred for Obama even trumps their so called definition of patriotism. To allow Mitt Romney to hand the country over to corporate control is selling out your precious America. You don't care as long as the black guy isn't in office.

K2KR
K2KR

 Oh you figured us out! It's all about race. No wait, I didn't support Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore or Kerry. How is that possible??? Could it be we Conservatives don't vote for LIBERALS? Or "PROGRESSIVES" or SOCIALISTS??? No matter what the tint of their skin, no matter what continent their father came from?

Your opinion stinks Polecat...

FredFilopek
FredFilopek

Worried about the country? You should be if mitt gets elected would you like world war three ?

manapp99
manapp99

Look around the world. Looks like Obama has steered a course directly towards WWIII. Complete with drone strikes killing an American citizen and thousands of innocent victims of the "collateral damage" when they accidently strike a wedding party. That is sure to win over the hearts and minds. Why the left is so ready to accept the war atrocities of Obama is mind numbing. Just so your side can win? Go team go I guess. 

danshays
danshays

I recall a similar chicken little sentiment regarding the impending landslide of President Reagan. I also recall no such war taking place. Curious.

There is however a war going on between Turkey and Syria, provocations between Japan and China and there's the old Iran vs. Israel thing looming. All under the nose of the smartest man in the universe. Four more years!!!

mkelter2011
mkelter2011

Romney came across as a mature adult leader who loves his country and does his job.  He came across as Presidential. 

You can talk about history until you're blue in the face--America has never had the early voting that we're going to have in 2012.  This debate performance sent 70% of the early voters to the ballot box with a favorable opinion of Mitt Romney.

Blame it on the moderator.  Blame it on the altitude.  Blame it on a Betty White moment without a Snickers.  However Obama cares to blame it, he blew a chance to finish off Romney early.

JWill10416
JWill10416

Even Stephanie Cutter finally agreed under pressure that it's not a $5 trillion dollar tax increase after loopholes are gone.  And they fail to tell you (Obama) that $5 trillion is over 10 years.  That's a a bogus lie anyway.  Romney says that the jobs increase will offset any revenue loss so that it's revenue neutral.  Obama lied and says "He's going to raise taxes on the middle class!"...when he has never said that.  Obama should have just said.."He's changing his position on this issue, or at least changing his position that we said he'd take."  The Tax Policy Center, who I think Obama is using for his blatant lie even says:  it would be wrong to "interpret this as evidence that Governor Romney wants to raise taxes on the middle increase taxes on the middle class in order to cut taxes on the rich" .  Obama/Biden have spewed BS lies on the campaign trail that Romney wants to raise taxes on seniors, they've run ads saying Romney "could take away middle class deductions for childcare, mortgage interest, and college tuition".  Other mediscare BS also.  Obama said he'd cut the deficit in half...LIE..no intention of it, and still doesn't.  Put down the pipe,  Obama is full of shit.

Carol McCarthy
Carol McCarthy

Romney's performance made me sick. He was manic and looked like he was on something like uppers. His smirking face was a real turnoff. I would hate to have to look at that for four years. He really does lie as easily as he can breathe and would probably be the most dishonest politician to ever occupy the white house if he ever got the chance and I hope he does not.

K2KR
K2KR

 If being president is all about fundraising and playing golf, Obama's your man. But accusing a politician of lying, wow, that's original. And the MOST dishonest, just like the truth-telling Bill Clinton said about '92 being the WORST economy in 50 years, when the recovery had begun months before.

Romney's enthusiasm comes from his love of country, Obama's somnambulism comes from his lack of enthusiasm about America. After all we all know it's just another colonial, racist enclave full of cabals of  running dogs of capitalism.

Back to the choom gang.

floridajoe55
floridajoe55

Carol, why the personal attacks without even throwing out one specific?  I mean, aren't the libs the ones always accusing conservatives of lowering our public discourse?

Can you name just one specific Romney lie that's at least as big as Obama's DNC chairwoman Wasserman Schultz's lie about the Israeli ambassador's comments and then lying about the conservative reporter who had her on tape?  You won't find any as big as the Obama WH lying to the American public about the attack on our Libyan consulate and ambassador.

If you care anything about truth and about our country, try looking at the facts objectively.  Hint: Don't take all your news from MSNBC and Daily Kos.

smackdog11
smackdog11

Lol, this is too easy. Where do I need to start with his lies???  Pre-existing conditions in his healthcare plan? His fake $5 trillion dollar tax cut without given upper earners a tax cut, Massachusetts education test scores that were alreadly at a high level before he got there, what deductions his tax plan will eliminate, and how does a guy who creates a company that ships jobs overseas NOT KNOW what potential tax savings exist by doing so???? My, my, my, why are so many people foolish enough to believe this man?

floridajoe55
floridajoe55

smackdog11 - - you're living up to your name -- talking smack.  It's easy to throw out a bunch of debatable points and call them lies.  That's what everybody on the left is doing. 

So, how about some sources like the reporter who had the tape on ole Wasserman?  Can you give me a source to see that it doesn't include pre-existing conditions?

Do you honestly think if fair and objective to use the $5T number that Obama's campaign came up with when Romney said his tax cut plan has not such thing?  I've seen plenty of economist saying Romney's plan does no such thing.  Even the Harvard economist Obama's gang "quoted" about Romney's plan put out a statement saying they had misquoted him.

Will have to look into education scores, but again what did he lie about and source.

What lie about deductions?  Everyone is critizing he hasn't given specifics and I have heard them either.  So what deductions and what lie.

Outsourcing tax savings?  I didn't know there were any either.  I just thought products get made cheaper because labor is cheaper.  But, again, what lie.

It's really a shame folks on the left seem so quick with the personal attacks, calling people racists, liars, etc.  Why the devil can't you guys just debate the issues by pointing if someone has inaccurate "facts" and using a little rational thought?

BTW, are you as concerned about the out-and-out lies on the left that are truly documented beyond any debate?

WorriedfortheCountry
WorriedfortheCountry

 Name one lie Carol.

I have a list of 8 whoppers that Obama told during the debate.

Have a nice day.

ProfessorPolecat
ProfessorPolecat

He said obama was jacking rates on seniors to pay for his 700 billion plus cuts to medicare and SS. LIE

He said he would not raise taxes on anyone. His own website says different.

LIE

Do I need to show you how to use Google?

KC Oracle
KC Oracle

Mr. Meaham is a partisan, but my problem is what is meant by "the campaign is Obama's to lose."   Without an explanation or definition, those are meaningless words.  And in fact, they appear to be in conflict with the rest of his story that states the race is even.  If it is even, then how is it any more "Obama's to lose" than any other version of it is "___'s to win" or "___'s to lose?"

FredFilopek
FredFilopek

What a foreign policy speech mitt gave today righties . Apparently mitt wants us to intervene in Libya , Syria , Egypt, Iraq and Iran. Why should mitt care .the chicken hawk supported the Vietnam war but never served. He knows his sons will never serve. It's seems that people of privilege don't pay taxes or serve in the military. That's only for the middle class and working poor.

Yoshi_1
Yoshi_1

 That's what we have now. It's what we generally have in that office and much of the rest of our leading government.

 A film clip caused the Libyan embassy attack , The health care law is not a tax, I'll close Guantanamo, we'll have transparency, I'll cut the deficit, blah, blah, blah......

THEY ALL LIE. They are professional liars, all. Ever notice how we seem to be screwed  whichever of the "parties" is in charge?

Maybe "ONE party" is an idea whose time has come? At least that part would be honest. The differences are illusion. There is only ONE actual ruling class, why not have them all in ONE party? Treat it like a simple license to run for office, a means of quickly vetting those who would govern. No more ideological "camps", etc.  More fluidity, and with it, maybe more things would get done with less animosity.

Discuss amiably?

floridajoe55
floridajoe55

Not sure "ONE party" is a good idea.  At least now we can try to pick the one that lies the least.  However, this time we have a stark choice.  The two parties and their candidates and their policies are diametrically opposite.

That's why Republicans don't want to "compromise" with the Dems.  It would be like giving up a bailing bucket in exchange for the Dems not drilling holes in the bottom of the life boat as fast.

retired.military
retired.military

Obama will be lucky to get 200 ev.  Stick a fork in him, he is done.  Not all the pandering by Time and the rest of the MSM can help him.   He cant run on this record.