If the last two elections have proven anything, it’s that the actual performances in the presidential debates aren’t what ultimately determines the victor; rather, an unquantifiable calculus of campaign spin, press perceptions, and comedic reaction shape what eventually becomes the conventional wisdom. This is why the instant reaction to Friday’s meeting in Mississippi was only a small part of how the first debate will ultimately be viewed.
Going in, each candidate had something to prove: Barack Obama needed to show that he had the wisdom and temperament for the job and allay voters’ concerns about his lack of experience. John McCain needed to reassure viewers that he wasn’t a reckless old man who might nuke Canada simply because he misremembered the name of its leader but didn’t want to admit to the mistake. The two combatants argued to what was, for the most part, immediately perceived as a draw and universally acknowledged to be one of the most boring debates of all time. Here’s how the reactions changed and settled over the weekend: