The 10 Silliest Explanations for Obama's Bad Debate

After the disaster in Denver, commentators on both sides line up to offer baseless, self-serving speculation.


Here's one area of bipartisan agreement: Barack Obama lost his debate to Mitt Romney Wednesday night. Even the Obama campaign seems unwilling to stake much credibility on claiming otherwise -- instead, spokespeople say that Romney did well by lying, and acknowledge that the president will change tactics before the next meeting in two weeks.

From there, things get messier: Why did Obama lose? There are plenty of reasonable and thoughtful theories. Incumbents tend to be rusty; he's seemed to generally lack enthusiasm for some time; and of course Romney simply outdebated him. And then there are the less reasonable and thoughtful theories. Here are the worst.

1. Theory: Obama Needed a Teleprompter

Proponents: Bill Maher, Charles Krauthammer

The Claim: The liberal comedian wittily takes a conservative talking point and reclaims it for the left. Meanwhile, here's Krauthammer on Fox News: "People say Obama was off his game; this is his game. If you take away a prompter, this is his game," the pundit said on Fox News. Ha! Except, no. Obama has won debates without teleprompters before, and he's given dull speeches with them. Try again, this time with perspective, fellas.

2. Theory: Obama Was on Drugs

Proponent: Matt Drudge

The Claim: The master aggregator, perhaps still smarting from his Obama tape fail, offers a completely speculative opinion. Does Obama seem like an anxious guy? And who in his right mind would take a Valium before a presidential debate?

3. Theory: It Was the Altitude

Proponent: Al Gore

The Claim: On his Current TV broadcast, the former vice president argued that the problem was that Obama hadn't had time to acclimate to the Mile-High City. It's perhaps somewhat plausible, but it's not like he was climbing K2 -- he was in Denver. Besides, he could have been acclimating instead of hitting the Hoover Dam.

4. Theory: It's a Trap!

Proponent: Charles Blow

The Claim: The New York Times columnist's theory is tough to buy. Three problems: First, even if Obama wanted to play rope-a-dope, it's hard to imagine he'd be willing to get so roundly beaten in one of only three debates. Second, there are few words in journalism as worthy of skepticism as "some people suggest." And third, the Russian campaign -- while disastrous for Napoleon -- also resulted in 210,000 Russian deaths, massive destruction of crops, and the catastrophic burning of Moscow. Does Obama really want the equivalent?

Presented by

David A. Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In