As the president sleepwalked through the debate, even his jabs and jokes fell flat.
“But under Governor Romney's definition, there are a whole bunch of millionaires and billionaires who are small businesses. Donald Trump is a small business. Now, I know Donald Trump doesn't like to think of himself as small anything, but, but that's how you define small businesses – if you're getting business income,” Obama said.
And Obama was savaged by the split screen: appearing irritated, impatient, disengaged, and aloof. When Romney talked, he kept looking down, but Romney looked Obama right in the eye and attacked with precise politeness.
“I just don't know how the president could have come into office facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the kitchen table, and spend his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obamacare instead of fighting for jobs for the American people," Romney said.
Even when the topic was health care, the president was either arrogant or overconfident, ignoring the moderator's time cues.
Obama: "Now the last point I'd like to make before…”
Lehrer: “Two minutes…two minutes is up, sir.”
Obama: "No, I think I had five seconds before you interrupted me…”
In his closing statement, Obama sounded as if he had been somewhere else.
“I think this has been a great debate," he said.
Yes, it was! For Mitt Romney! And now the stage is set for the second debate, where the president must recover, or risk his re-election.