Mitt Romney’s calling card has always been his corporate crispness, at least from the chest up. His finely tailored suit jackets made his shoulders look broad and his chest solid; he was all jaw with a slap of bracing aftershave that you could almost smell through the TV. Fresh and ready to command his morning board meeting, Romney “looked like a president,” as pundits repeatedly declared and as he did, in fact, look in the first debate.
Last night, he was crumpled and rumpled. He forgot Rule #1 for males who sit before TV cameras: sit on the tail of your jacket so it doesn’t bunch up around your shoulders. It bunched. And instead of Old Spice, he wore fresh sweat.
Particularly above his upper lip. Most TV viewers have never seen Mitt Romney sweat before, but it was hard to miss. (It may have “started glistening on Romney’s forehead,” Roger Simon writes, when Obama brought up Yad Vashem.) Often when speaking, his facial expressions seemed to flit around; he visibly gulped. At many moments he seemed to be pleading with Bob Schieffer to understand him, to listen to him harder.
Romney’s flag pin was larger than Obama’s, but it seemed to grow larger still as the night went on and the man wearing it shrunk. On the split screen, Romney appeared ever so slightly smaller than Obama, filling the rectangle by a fraction less than the higher-sitting, forward-leaning president.
Obama came across less like a skinny guy with big ears and more like a rock-solid boulder. That is, for once he looked more Romney than Romney: his head all simple planes above the smooth lines of a well-fitted suit. The only wrinkles that jumped out were those from the sides of his nose to the corners of his mouth, the kind of deep lines that suggest worry over grave responsibilities.
The way the two men spoke mirrored their physical presence. Never sinking to his professorial drone, Obama spoke calmly and in short, to-the-point declarative sentences. Romney was often to-the-point, too, but he spoke fast, a little frantically, and he couldn’t help but give off a kind of verbal sweat with one of his signature tells—declaring that he likes or loves something. “I love teachers,” he said, twice. Schieffer tried to calm him down, saying, “We all love teachers.”
At the end of the debate, Obama was the first to stand up. Romney stood a beat later, and started to come around the back of the table for the ritual handshake and shoulder grab. Obama quickly pointed to the front of the table and walked there.
Romney took his directions and followed.
John Nichols points out that besides body language, Mitt Romney had some serious problems in last night debate.