Mitt Romney came with a written presentation. Barack Obama came with a seminar outline.
Last night's presidential debate was a study in contrasts, but even more, it was the fulfillment of two wildly held assumptions about the candidates. There's Romney, the business man's business man, so polished that his surface has a way of reflecting whatever scene happens to swirl around him. And there's Obama, the detached philosopher, whose allure has always been his ability to appear coolly separate, even above, the scene around him. So there they were last night, filling out their stereotypes -- one polished, practiced in sound-bites, armed with short lists, making a pitch; the other comprehensive but rarely succinct and, somehow, separate.
Mitt Romney won by ... well, by being Mitt Romney, and Obama lost by being a caricature of his cool distracted professor alter-ego.
A presidential campaign is a year-long decathlon, where candidates have to compete in contests as diverse as fundraising to managing state networks to avoiding gaffes. The evidence from the last 50 years shows that the decathlon -- plus "fundamentals" like foreign affairs and the economy -- matters more than any one televised competition. But even if you discount the power of debates, you shouldn't not count them. These are still 50-million-person theatrical events staged in the final chapter of a razor-thin election. And Romney was clearly the better performer last night. His style shined, both because he came prepared to make digestible points tailored for a moderate TV audience and because Obama did so little to force him off his game plan.