Post-Debate Analysis: Pundits and Opinion Pages Weigh In

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - The post-debate consensus is that Democrat Al Gore was less comfortable in his second encounter with Republican George W. Bush as he tried to subdue his aggressive tendencies, while Bush was more confident, competent - and likeable -- in his grasp and articulation of the issues.

"Substantive and civil," pronounced the lead editorial in the Washington Post. The newspaper gives Bush points for the way he "confidently handled a range of foreign and domestic policy questions."

The editorial also noted that Gore's "self-discipline seemed almost painful for him at times." But the newspaper's bottom line is that the significant differences between the candidates were framed in a useful way in debate number two.

Political analyst Dick Morris, writing in the New York Post, said that "for two-thirds of the second presidential debate, the old Al Gore was bound and gagged under the table. The new Al, sweet, self-effacing and nonpartisan, was on display."

But it worked to Gore's detriment, Morris says: "After one hour, Mr. Nice Guy realized he had sleepwalked his way through Debate II. Gore found himself so trapped by the need to reign in his aggressiveness that he realized he had failed in his fundamental mission: to underscore the differences between himself and Bush."

According to Morris, Bush's superior personality, character and likeability carried the day in the second debate.

Bush's personality won, said Morris. "He had fiber and toughness at key moments in the debate: speaking of reading as a 'civil right' and rejecting bad public education as 'racial profiling'; linking limited government at home and 'humility' abroad; using the 'ultimate penalty' on hate crimes.

"Leading in the polls going into this debate, Bush now will likely expand his lead. Hard as it is to believe, he won a debate against Gore. Both Gores. He beat the New (nice) Al by showing a superior personality and attitude. He beat the Old (nasty) Al with his class and dignity."

The New York Times compares the second presidential debate to "two students dutifully taking a makeup exam." Bush wanted to appear smarter; Gore wanted to appear nicer. Advantage, Bush, said the editorial:

"Mr. Bush thrived in the low-intensity environment, appearing markedly more confident and sure-footed than he had in the past. But Mr. Gore could get a payoff in the days ahead. He had clearly made a bet that by abandoning his bullying tactics of the first debate, he might gain in the long run with voters inclined toward him on issues but troubled by his officious manner."

The New York Times gives Gore credit for being "more in command of the details" on foreign policy. But, it says, "Mr. Bush came across as solid and better briefed on the issues than he was last week."

According to the New York Times editorial, Bush grew in confidence as the debate wore on, while Gore, "conscious of the need to avoid being overbearing or committing trivial errors, at times did not look like his normal self, and it changed the chemistry of the encounter."

An editorial in Thursday's Winston-Salem Journal said, "If either of these candidates was able to budge polls showing them in a dead heat going into this second of three debates, it was hard to know the reason...The two seemed intent on displaying good behavior, not making any mistakes and not attacking each other."

"Gore seemed on the defensive for much of the evening and was so subdued that he was unable to recapture the momentum that he seems to have lost."