Barack Obama didn't stand a chance.
It wasn't even a fair fight.
The president was palpably better at Hofstra than he was at the University of Denver, but that pesky shadow -- his actual record in office -- continues to follow him onto the stage like a stalker.
He cannot get away from it.
It's the 1,000-pound anchor dragging down his candidacy.
As well as Obama did stylistically -- his Ivy League debate training showed itself on Tuesday -- substantively, he tanked. Obama found himself in the untenable position of defending a record that a majority of Americans believe to be subpar. Almost six in 10 voters say the country is moving in the wrong direction, and the president, by the very nature of a re-election campaign, is forced to say "Let's keep doing things my way."
That's a nearly impossible task to get away with -- even for a talented politician like Barack Obama.
I always tell my clients that taking down an incumbent requires an indictment of his or her record. If you cannot make the argument why the current officeholder should be removed, he or she won't be. Voters will always stick with the devil they know.
Mitt Romney was a prosecuting attorney Tuesday night, and he had an overwhelming trove of evidence with which to indict the president.
The most lethal weapon in his arsenal was Obama's own promises from 2008 and 2009. After an African-American audience member, who had voted for the president last time, suggested he was unsure of why he should support him again, the former Massachusetts governor pounced:
The president said he'd cut the deficit in half. He doubled it instead;
He said he's cut the cost of health care $2,500 per family. It's gone up $2,500.
He promised immigration, Social Security and Medicare reforms. Where are they?
Gov. Romney was almost breathless at points, trying to work the ammunition at his disposal into his allotted time.
That's where the fight was unfair.
There were no knockout punches thrown Tuesday, but a lot of body blows from the challenger landed. Romney also must have mentioned jobs, small businesses and the middle class two dozen times each -- which is exactly what he had to do. The president had a prettier performance, but Romney was methodical, and he continued the indictment of the incumbent that he began in Colorado.
The president, like Vice President Joe Biden before him, made one incredible blunder at Hofstra: He again fueled the controversial story line of Libya. No matter what this administration tries to do to put the Benghazi terrorist attack behind it, it seems to make it worse by the day.
It's become almost weird.
The president boldly claimed at the debate that on the Monday after the 9/11/12 attack, he called the action "terrorism" in a Rose Garden news conference. But it wasn't how he characterized the attack throughout the Rose Garden event -- no matter what debate moderator Candy Crowley said. Instead, he noted only generally that "no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation."
If, indeed, the president had believed the 9/11/12 attacks to be an orchestrated terrorist operation, why did the White House, the Pentagon, the UN Ambassador and campaign officials continue to suggest for two weeks that the attacks began with spontaneous demonstrations?
That now needs to be answered -- extending this news cycle at least several more days.
Americans can deal with an intelligence failure, but they won't tolerate a cover-up. Yet that is what this increasingly seems to be.
Barack Obama did a good job debating last night. But as the expression goes, one cannot put lipstick on a sow.
William F.B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.