The reaction to tonight’s debate (which, due to conflicting professional obligations, I have not yet watched) seems pretty consistent from the punditocracy (setting aside the obviously partisan ones, whose reactions I could have written before the debate began).
The Globe’s Scot Lehigh wrote perhaps the most damaging piece on Brown. Lehigh is a middle-of-the-roader, a person who would like to see people like Brown have a place in the GOP, and someone who frankly probably has a good deal of sympathy with some of Brown’s views. Here’s his take:
Warren hits her stride, while Brown stumbles
A petty performance by senator
It was a good night for Elizabeth Warren — and an ominous one for Scott Brown.
Warren accomplished two important things. First, she cut through the fog on Brown’s tax stance. The senator talks as though he’s the tribune of the middle class. Warren, however, drove home the point that Brown would hold tax cuts for the middle class hostage to protect those for families making more than $250,000….
She also highlighted a political reality that helped kill Bill Weld’s Senate hopes back in 1996: A vote for Brown is a vote for Republican control of the Senate. And if the GOP takes control, Warren warned, that would put Senator James Inhofe, a climate-change denier, in charge of the committee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency.
Brown’s retort — “You are not running against Jim Inhofe. You are running against me, professor” — was both nonresponsive and supercilious.
It gets worse.
In pressing her case, Warren kept her tone reasonable and her focus political, not personal.
Not so Brown. His calling card is his supposed nice-guy-ism. But he often seemed petty and personal. It was an off-putting mistake to start the debate by attacking on the issue of Warren’s (undocumented) Native American ancestry. People open to deciding their vote on that matter probably already have. Further, suggesting that Warren is a hypocrite because she supports higher federal taxes on upper earners but doesn’t voluntarily pay more in state income taxes herself is an eye-rollingly silly attack.
Overall, Brown was underwhelming on a night when he needed to be senatorial.
Wow – “petty and personal.” ”Off-putting.” ”Eye-rollingly silly.” That’s a pretty harsh assessment from someone I’d expect to be fairly sympathetic to Brown.
Joan Vennochi, whom one might expect to be more pro-Warren, saw things similarly.
The woman who made Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner squirm made Senator Scott Brown sweat.
Elizabeth Warren, the Democrat who is challenging the incumbent Republican, was poised and collected — just as you might expect from a Harvard professor with years of experience testifying in Washington before Geithner and assorted members of Congress…. That first attack [on Warren's heritage] was all Brown had for much of a debate that rocked with smirks and verbal jabs….
Brown … seemed rattled at times…. Was he too tough? He wasn’t as tough on her as she was on him.
And here’s Adam Reilly, late of the Phoenix and now at WGBH.
About 20 minutes into tonight’s WBZ Senate debate, I tweeted: “Anyone else think Brown’s smiles and general body language echo Al Gore in 2000?”
It wasn’t a compliment. As you may recall, Gore was roundly mocked for his exasperated sighs after his first debate with George W. Bush. Brown didn’t sigh tonight. But he smirked, licked his lips, looked at the ground, and had trouble clearing his throat (or maybe sneezing?). He also kicked off the debate by questioning Elizabeth Warren’s claims of Native American ancestry with an unexpected, unsettling degree of intensity. For about 30 minutes, Brown was hot and Warren was cool — more relaxed than she’s seemed in months, actually. And the contrast wasn’t working in Brown’s favor.
Reilly goes on to say that, in his estimation, Brown improved markedly in the second half of the debate, a view echoed by the Globe’s Tom Keane, who thought “Brown made a weak first impression in last night’s Senate debate: stumbling over words, lacking mastery of the facts, and falling back on sound bites.” Reilly said that “I’d give the first half to Warren…. The second half felt like a draw”; Keane concluded that “[t]here was no knock-out punch for either.”
One of the most interesting commentaries comes from the Phoenix’s David Bernstein, who seems genuinely worried about Brown.
Something seemed off to me about Scott Brown in tonight’s debate. Like, he hadn’t slept, or was a little groggy from cold medicine or something — that kind of off.
He seemed, to me, to be having trouble concentrating. It was particularly noticeable when he wasn’t talking, which unfortunately for him was captured by WBZ’s extensive use of split-screen. At one point, while Elizabeth Warren was speaking, Brown clearly zoned out for a few seconds and then aggressively blinked himself awake.
Then, after the debate, Brown sent out a spokesperson rather than do his press availability — which, when asked about it, the spokesperson attributed to Brown having had a long day.
This is not like Scott Brown. He’s a guy in tip-top physical condition — he runs marathons, for cryin’ out loud — and he can drive himself around to events and talk to voter after voter after voter without sagging in the least. He isn’t wiped out from a long day at 8:15pm, in normal circumstances.
Maybe Brown takes Dramamine when he flies to stave off airsickness? That could explain it – Brown’s afternoon flight from DC can’t have gotten to Boston much before 5 or 5:30 pm, so he could have still been feeling the effects of medication he took before or during the flight. Anyway, Bernstein concluded that Brown’s performance was “sub-par, but not terrible”; of Warren, he said that “she did pretty well. Not a home run, but a solid base hit; maybe some will even say extra bases.”
Finally, a write-up (not an opinion piece) in Politico by Dave Catanese echoes the sense that Brown got weirdly personal, and seemed rattled.
Warren appeared to soften her tone in this high-stakes setting. She smiled often, did not appear to allow Brown’s scathing barbs to get under her skin….
On the other hand, Brown appeared to become agitated at certain moments, as Warren relentlessly pegged him as a legislator who wasn’t looking out for the middle class. The punches he threw were undoubtedly harder and more personal.
So, there you have it. Overall, sounds like Warren turned in a solid, if not brilliant, performance. Next week’s face-off should prove interesting.