In this campaign it's always been the statesman versus the frat boy and last night revealed that in spades. For a man whose campaign is allegedly floundering, Kerry was one cool customer last night. PBS wasn't doing the split screen so I missed out on a lot of the reaction shots. But you didn't need to see them to know that Bush was uneasy and testy and Kerry was in classic debate form.
We've seen Bush act like this before. What we haven't had is the sublime benefit of a side by side comparison. What we're seeing today in the post-debate polls isn't so much a reflection of the debate as it was, but how much Bush suffers when compared to Kerry in real time. Bush was just being Bush and Kerry was being Kerry. The difference was that Kerry seemed to blossom under debate pressure. He responded rather than reacted, nodding and taking notes when attacked. His whole demeanor said, "Bring it on. I can take it."
Bush's said something else entirely.
To give him a little credit, Bush so rarely has unscripted exchanges that it's a wonder he didn't fold altogether. But several gulps to one sip of water equals a very uncomfortable Commander-in-Chief. A ninety-minute debate is about 75 minutes too long given how quickly he seemed to lose is cool. And Kerry didn't really zing him so much land a few choice hits in soft spots, namely Bush the first and Osama bin Laden. Bush fell back on his trusty talking points, and rendered them useless by too much repetition.
Bush has a small personality and a long-time drug user's mental reaction time. He can't take criticism and can't focus enough to counter it effectively. It'll be interesting, to say the least, to see how he weathers the next debate. His team can change their prep strategy, but that can only work to a certain point. You can't change who he is.