In the first presidential debate tonight, the candidates won't offer that much policy detail -- President Obama has been prepped to act less "professorial," Mitt Romney to rattle off fewer statistics. Instead, they're focusing on looking calm, cool, and not smug. In other words, they're trying not to inspire GIFs. They are almost certain to fail. Therefore, we'll be liveblogging and live-GIFing tonight's events.
11:10p.m.: Highlights: After all the hype about Romney's prepared zingers, there weren't that many. But even though he didn't get zung, Obama seemed to lack energy and enthusiasm. He didn't attack Romney on a lot of expected things -- the 47 percent, Bain, Romney's tax returns. Romney, on the other hand, pressed Obama all through the debate. He looked happy, even when attacking Big Bird. Both guys got fussy about the rules -- Romney demanded the last word on taxes, Obama wanted his five seconds on Medicare. In the side-by-side shots, both candidates offered insincere smiles while their opponents attacked them. Romney knew he won. He felt so good he even laughed at Obama's joke in the end.
Here's a full transcript of the debate.
11:10p.m.: A moment of crisis: The White House pool reporters accidentally almost defected to Romney:
In an amusing moment, poolers were sitting in the Press One van outside the debate hall and the driver said “I think that Romney did real good.” There was a moment of baffled silence, before our steno , Bec, put two and two together and said “guys we are in the Romney van.” Blind panic then ensued as we piled out the van and sprinted towards the correct motorcade, which was parked right in front of Romney’s. Disaster was narrowly averted.
11:05p.m.: Romney's campaign is pretty happy, and there's a ton of surrogates in the spin room to make sure reporters document this joy in their stories. A photo of the madness, from Slate's Dave Weigel:
10:57p.m.: Romney looked pretty happy in the post-debate handshake:
10:44p.m.: Like with his Democratic National Convention speech, the pundit consensus seems to be that Obama didn't bring it. He really did look low-energy, and didn't attack Romney on all the stuff his campaign has been spending millions of dollars attacking him on in ads. Even in his closing statements -- the final moment, when he's supposed to give a rousing case for his vision thing, Obama seemed a little glum. Here's Obama saying Romney probably would say he'd kept his promise to not be perfect:
And then he says that even though he's not perfect, he's fought every day for the middle class.
Romney, on the other hand, looked a lot more sure of his talking points. Here, in his closing statement, he lays out the sad vision of America if Obama's reelected, and the happy version if Romney wins instead:
By the end of his closing statement, there was a smile on his face. You can tell he thought he was killing it:
10:32p.m.: Closing comments: Obama's is ambivalent: "Four years ago I said I'm not a perfect man and I'm not a perfect president, and that's a probably promise Gov. Romney thinks I've kept. But I also promised I'd fight every single day for the American people ... I've kept that promise. And, if you vote for me, then I promise I'll fight just as hard the second term."
Romney, instead, laid out a clear contrast: "If I'm elected we won't have Obamacare. ... If the president were reelected, you'll see a $716 billion cut to Medicare... If I'm reelected, I'll restore those cuts. ... And finally, the military. If the president's reelected you'll see dramatic cuts to our military. The secretary of defense says these will be devastating. I will not cut our commitment to our military. I will keep America strong."
10:23p.m.: Lehrer doesn't seem to have control over his debate. He seems surprised the candidates didn't play by his time rules. "You've done a great job, Jim," Obama tells him.
10:22p.m.: "Mr. President, you are entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts." Another Romney zinger gets deployed.
10:18p.m.: Maybe it wasn't just expectations-setting when Obama's campaign said he hadn't had much time to prepare? He's looking at his notes a lot.
10:17p.m.: The debate is almost over, and Obama hasn't mentioned Bain or "47 percent."
10:02p.m.: "We've seen this model work really well. In Massachusetts," Obama says of Obamacare. He runs over time, and Lehrer tries to stop him. "I had five seconds left before you interrupted me," he says, a little snippily, and then tries to cover with a smile.
Obama wants to keep talking about Obamacare vs. Romneycare because he thinks its a strong point for him, and makes Romney look like a waffler. Romney says that Obama pushed through Obamacare without Republican votes. Obama responds that Democratic legislators in Massachusetts could have given the Republicans in Congress some tips on working across the aisle.
10:00p.m.: Guys, this is a bait and switch. We were promised a substance-free zing fest, in which "not looking smug" was the highest priority, and yet we've got a real lecture on real issues. The people will revolt.
9:49p.m.: We're halfway through the debates. No knockout zingers so far. Obama seems a little tired. But how are they doing on the all-important side-by-side shots? They both are doing a lot of insincere smiling.
Here's Obama saying Romney's plan to offer vouchers for Medicare would end up costing seniors more, because the size of the voucher would not rise at the rate of health care cost inflation.
Obama while Romney says they wouldn't pay additional money, they would just get more choice.
9:45p.m.: Twitter says there were 17,000 tweets per minute for "Big Bird," 10,000 tweets per minute for "PBS."
9:38p.m.: Romney denies Obama's assertion that companies can get a tax break for moving companies overseas. "I've been in business for 25 years. I don't know what you're talking about. Maybe I need a new accountant." Zinger!
9:34p.m.: Romney tries to personalize spending cuts. No more subsidies for public television. "I love Big Bird! Actually I like you too!" Lehrer is pleased.
The 80-year-old moderator is turning out to be a fun part of this debate.
9:30p.m.: Romney demands the last word on taxes. "He had the first word so I get the last word!"
Jim Lehrer seems to love this.
So does Obama.
9:20p.m.: They start fighting over a nonpartisan study that found that Romney's tax plan to lower rates and pay for it by eliminating some deductions was impossible unless he raised taxes on the middle class. Though Romney's prepared zinger got a lot of attention before the debate, Obama apparently practiced some, too. "His big, bold plan is 'nevermind," Obama says. Under Romney's plan, "Donald Trump is a small business. And I know Donald Trump doesn't like to think of himself as small anything, but that's why their plan says."
9:10p.m.: Obama laughs as Romney says he's picked a "romantic" place to celebrate Obama and Michelle's 20th wedding anniversary.
9:05p.m.: Obama and Romney shake hands. It lasts way too long. Were they competing to see who could be into it?
8:59p.m.: The ceremonial (and totally friendly) hug between the candidates' wives.
(Photo via Associated Press.)
8:54p.m.: The Romneys all lined up to watch.
(Photo via Associated Press.)
8:52p.m.: What are the rules tonight? There will be six segments, each 15 minutes. No buzzers, no breaks. Each candidate gets an initial two minutes to respond to a question, and then moderator Jim Lehrer has some leeway to let the conversation flow.
8:43p.m.: The New York Times has a nifty feature on the hand gestures both candidates use the most. Despite his reputation for being robotic, Romney's gestures are more open than Obama's, the Times says. Romney does a hands-up, embrace-type gesture. Obama does a chopping movement. What's fun about the Times' feature is that it puts tracers on the hands of the candidates to highlight their gestures.
This looks funny on Romney's head (the "tilt and nod.")
8:41p.m.: What is Mitt Romney doing to get his game face on? Why, he's playing Jenga, naturally.
8:20p.m.: Obama's motorcade arrives, BuzzFeed's Ben Smith tweets.
8:15p.m.: Will.i.am is in the debate hall tonight.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.