Forget facts, details, statistics, arguments and substance...televised presidential debates are usually won strictly on the basis of what we, the viewers, perceive through the tube. In other impressions, fleeting words, eye movement, smiles, frowns, sighs... Those stay with us for years. Those determine winners and losers.
And now, the morning after, let's go to the TV list. Who won on what counts, or, at the very least, on what we remember from TV?
Best tie: President Obama wore a traditional blue tie, while Mitt Romney wore a striking red one. "Striking" is the key here. The president's tie blended into the blue background, and hence, the president did to a certain extent as well.
Best eye contact: The president occasionally glanced at his challenger; the challenger steadfastly looked at the president. The impression, whether accurate or not, that this leaves with viewers, is that the challenger is more forceful.
Best vocal pattern: This is key. These debates are so full of policy and stats and talk about "Dodd-Frank" that the average viewer -- me -- is soon lost, or frantically trying to parse differences between what is being said, not said, or accurately said. As such, the win goes to he who speaks most slowly, stopping briefly, letting the minds at home catch up. Obama has a certain cadence that allows for greater comprehension, in my humble opinion. Romney tends to rushwordsoutsofasttheyallcometogehterinabiglump...
The "uh" quotient: This is the thing that any human speaker does -- stops and says "uh" now and then so the thoughts catch up to what is being said. Perfectly normal, but you don't want it in a debate. Tends to suggest indecision. The prez out-"uhed" the challenger.
Best head position: This, as any media consultant will tell you, is critical. Keep that ol' head up, Don't look away too often from the camera. A bowed head tends to make the figure on the screen appear recondite, but only if the head is looking down occasionally. If the head is bowed down a lot, the viewer assumes he's studying his shoes. The president seemed to spend half the night staring at his shoes.
Best stare-straight-into-the-camera-stare: Finally, a vital TV skill. If you're looking into the camera, this demands the viewer to pay closer attention to what you are saying. It also implies that you are talking to ME -- not that other guy. We, the couch potatoes, like it when people on camera talk directly to us. But here's the thing -- you can't do it too often or it seems phony, a put-on, and frankly kind of rude ("Hey, pay attention to that guy next to you!"). Both candidates seemed to have a reasonable balance last night, so....
Winner: A tie
Finally, best in show: OK, who won this first debate? Combine all the elments above, and strip away any political bias you may have (of course, Dems are gonna say Obama won and GOPers will say Romney won). Look into your heart -- or at least remember who had the better tie. Think about the voices, the smiles, the overall sense of confidence projected on-screen. In other words, the TV stuff...