Plainly, Barack Obama decided to attend tonight, and, on balance, although Mitt Romney had some genuinely excellent moments during the ninety minutes, I might be inclined to give Mr. Obama a slight edge in the debate (in terms of “winning” viewers over). Which doesn’t please me.
However, I think the exchange on Libya went unexpectedly well for Mr. Obama, and that, in this, he was considerably aided by Candy Crowley’s timely intervention on his behalf — which was, as it happens, factually mistaken (as she herself virtually admits) and which was definitely inappropriate for a moderator. She threw Mr. Romney off his stride, drew a rule-violating round of applause from the audience (for Mr. Obama, it seemed), and interfered with Mr. Romney’s comments on Libya — which is a topic very much in the news and not at all in the President’s favor.
I have a hunch, though, that her intervention will only breathe even more life into the current scandal over the murders in Benghazi and over the Obama administration’s ineptitude or dishonesty in giving an account of them. People will be talking about Ms. Crowley’s misguided correction of Governor Romney — and the more they talk about it, the clearer it will be that the Governor was right in his claim, while the President was . . . um, wrong.
And I think this is important. The Obama administration has been eager to portray itself as extremely effective, indeed on the very edge of definitive victory, against al-Qa‘ida, and has happily repeated over and over again the inspiring tale of how Mr. Obama essentially parachuted alone into Abbottabad, Pakistan, and singlehandedly took out ‘Usama b. Ladin. The fact that our ambassador was killed in Benghazi, along with three other Americans, by a pre-planned and well-armed assault almost certainly run by al-Qa’ida conflicts starkly and dramatically with the administration’s campaign-season pretenses. Hence the Obama campaign’s determined commitment to the myth of a phantom demonstration in Benghazi that, provoked by a silly and terrible little film that nobody had seen, simply got out of hand.