Is McCain about to lose the post-debate?

Sep 27, 2008

It sure looks like it.

The good (unreliable) instant polls for Obama are already framing the narrative in an interesting way: given how many pundits called the debate for McCain, the question is why undecided voters saw things differently.

This, in conjunction with the absence of “defining moments,” seems to be driving a growing focus on issues of demeanor and body language.

And here we find some real problems for McCain: his almost total lack of eye contact with Obama and his facial expressions while Obama was talking. Such behavior fits, unfortunately for McCain, into preexisting frames about his temper and his lack of respect for Obama. It also supplies the most obviously material for satire.

Now, I’m not convinced we’re looking at a repeat of the first Bush-Gore debate. Gore trounced Bush but got destroyed by his sighs and eyerolling–which, at the time, I barely noticed but my wife squirmed at and predicted would be used against him. I did, however, comment during McCain-Obama debate that some of McCain’s expressions could get him into trouble, and now I’m starting to think that they will.

And now stories are cropping up concerning audio of McCain apparently swearing during Obama’s reference to McCain’s supposed “Spain gaffe.”

If I were in the McCain campaign, I’d be very worried right now, despite my prior analysis.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.