9:20 am ET
Fresh off my flight from Denver and straight to 30 Rock:
JOE SCARBOROUGH: You said yesterday morning the Romney people were exhausted, they looked miserable. What a difference twelve hours makes.
MARK HALPERIN: Yeah, I mean, look, they put in a lot of effort. And one of the things that is true, not spin on either side, is the President had to cancel some of his sessions. And Governor Romney, you know, we all sort of made fun of them when they holed up in Vermont for three days, but, it as been said all along, when this guy has time to prepare he’s very good. And it’s also been widely reported that the Romney people were in the spin room the minute the debate ended and it took a while for the Obama people to come in.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: You know, they looked stunned. The Obama people looked stunned.
MARK HALPERIN: Yeah, I think they’re going to have to come down off this notion of this was all just about how Mitt Romney gave some good one liners. They’ve got a problem now that’s going to sustain for a couple of weeks, until the President, until and unless the President performs better in the next debate. They’ve got a problem.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: What happened? What happened to the President? Joe Klein said it was the worst performance he’s seen in a presidential debate and, you know, a lot of other people are saying Mitt Romney delivered the best performance by a Republican since 1980. So, you had a lot of things colliding last night.
MARK HALPERIN: Yeah, I think, the President, his rhetorical skills are often overrated. He’s not that great a debater. He hasn’t been in a debate of any sort for a good long while and, I think, I don’t know this from my reporting, but my sense is — just seems obviously true — he took it a little bit for granted that he could come in there. He’s so confident that Mitt Romney’s budget ideas are flim-flam that I think he thought that he could just come in and say what he sees so clearly and that they’ve been doing so effectively in their advertising and on the stump and that would make all the difference.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: And doesn’t it sometime require that you say, listen, you’re simply not telling the truth, that your facts are wrong. He should’ve gone after him and actually pointed out massive inconsistencies or untruths and actually said it, aggressively, no? Why not?
MARK HALPERIN: Well, I I think one of the many things Governor Romney did well yesterday was he made his points aggressively but without rancor. And I think the President — and John I think said this earlier — the President just didn’t want to get involved in creating big moments. He wanted no big moments and there really weren’t that many big moments but there were — but he let himself just be overrun. It’s extraordinary to have an incumbent president in a debate be dominated, in terms of holding the stage, commanding the stage. And Governor Romney, you know, as we saw all along, all nomination period long, he dominated the debates, almost all the debates. And people said, well, they weren’t one-on-one. But, for the most part, they were. In the debates that mattered, he was one-on-one with Rick Perry, then one-on-one with Gingrich, then one-on-one with Santorum, effectively, and the moderators treated it that way. And, I will say, again, he is underrated. His personality is underrated and his performance skills are underrated when he has time to prepare and, again, for the next two weeks — we’ll see what happens in the veep debate — the President’s going to be under some pressure.
WILLIE GEIST: So, what now, what does the Romney campaign do with this so it becomes more than just a great 90-minute performance?
MARK HALPERIN: I’ve got a list of sort-of what now questions up on The Page on TIME.com. I think, let’s see how big his crowds are. Let’s see if the press now has a bit of a love affair with him, which hasn’t really occurred this entire campaign. Let’s see if he can take, as Joe said earlier, the skills and the level of performance he had last night and translate it to interviews and out on the stump. Let’s see if Democrats start to panic and let’s see if Chicago, which has some opposition research that they’ve not used yet, let’s see if they decide in the next 24 to 48 hours to say, we need to turn the page with something new, another video or some other thing. But, personality and performance matters. Of all the criticism of the campaign and the mistakes they’ve made, if Governor Romney can sustain his performance, I think what happens next is the President faces a lot of pressure for the next two weeks.
JOHN HEILEMANN: I’ll just add one more thing to that list. Let’s see if Mitt Romney can avoid the kind of unforced errors that have plagued him throughout his campaign over the course of the next two weeks.
MARK HALPERIN: But if the press is having a love affair with him, things that before would have been seen as big gaffes and unforced errors, people will be like, well, whatever.