James paraphrases Ross on the presidential debate:

So but for the one thing he needed to do in the debate to win, McCain won.

Perhaps this is simply my bias against McCain, but I just don’t see it.  Why does Ross think that, all things being equal, McCain would have been considered the winner?  This is the main point:

I saw the debate as an evening in which the policy differences between the two men were muted, and McCain was able to steer the conversation around, again and again, to his experience and record, which on paper is easily his biggest advantage over Obama.

This is the odd thing about the debate–McCain did do that and I think that is a large part of why I and many other observers thought that he lost.  It wasn’t just that he came into the debate trailing in the polls with the baggage of the phony suspension weighing him down.  McCain succeeded in bringing the conversation around again and again (and again) to his experience, and mostly managed in the process to make himself seem obnoxious, ignorant and often wrong.  He not only failed to portray Obama as the naive radical he wanted to paint him as, but he singularly failed to offer any credible arguments on his own behalf.  It is difficult to frame your opponent as naive and ignorant when you backed an ideologically-driven war in a region about which you have demonstrated no real understanding, and it becomes even harder when your attempted put-downs show that you don’t know anything about Pakistan, either.  Saying that you’ve been part of every national security matter for the last two and a half decades is interesting, but what does that mean?  For all his experience, he backed the invasion of Iraq in what is largely regarded as the worst blunder of the last three decades.  In other words, on the most salient and relevant foreign policy issue of the day, McCain has been badly wrong, as Obama pointed out in one of his better moments.  McCain preached about the importance of knowledge, experience and judgement,  and yet it was clear by the end of the night that at least for the last decade he has had neither knowledge nor judgement.  In what universe could this be considered a political victory?  To my mind, he was scoring own goals with some regularity.   

If McCain’s endless litany of “Sen. Obama doesn’t understand” sounded more credible to some than Clinton’s “35 years of experience” line, it was one of the principal reasons why viewers tended to favor Obama and move away from McCain.  If the Obama campaign has sometimes been rightly criticized for responding to attacks as if it were staffed by writers from The Daily Show, McCain on Friday was debating as if the electorate consisted of The Wall Street Journal editorial board and Hugh Hewitt’s listening audience.  Each time he said that Obama didn’t understand, you can imagine that these people thought he had landed a killer blow, while for the rest of us he seemed a tired, angry and increasingly ridiculous figure who doesn’t even have a very good grasp on the subject that he is supposed to dominate.  Less-informed and undecided voters reacted badly to McCain’s contempt for his opponent, while those of us familiar with the subjects under discussion were either shaking our heads or laughing at him.  I have heard an anecdote from back home that an avowed McCain supporters who thinks Obama would be a disaster was angry at him for what she perceived to be McCain’s disrespect for Obama, and I don’t think that is an isolated episode.  Concerning both style and substance, McCain clearly did a worse job and a majority of the audience picked up on that.  The problem for McCain is that this really was the best debate he has had during the entire campaign, and he is never going to have another one where he will be perceived to be as effective as he was in this one.