The cliché: Maybe it was once clever to declare Obama the winner of a debate he didn't participate in, but the joke is not wearing well with repetition. The latest to engage in this dismissal of the Republican candidates to replace Obama was Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen who writes in a blog post, "Right after the presidential debate last night, CNN turned to its usual panel of pundits, politicians and prognosticators to tell us who won (Obama, I think)."
Where it's from: This isn't even a joke unique to this year's election cycle, (Bush won the occasional Democratic debate in 2004) but commentators wasted no time declaring Obama the winner of the Republican debates at the start. After the first debate way back in June, The Daily Kos's Jed Lewison wrote, "And the winners are Sarah Palin, for still being the most 'dynamic' potential 2012er out there, and Barack Obama, for knowing that short of a Palin or Perry candidacy, he's going to be facing off against one of the unelectable clowns who took the stage last night." In August, CNN contributor John Avion wrote, "Watching the debate, it was tempting to say that President Barack Obama was the real winner because the Republican field is so weak." After a September debate, Brad Bannon, a communications researcher participating in a Politico debate roundup, wrote, "Who won the GOP debate? Barack Obama did!" After the following debate, Michael Stone of the Examiner.com wrote "The fourth debate of the 2012 Republican presidential race proved to be a major victory for President Barack Obama."
Why it's catching on: As we said, the quip is an easy way to make a blanket judgement on all the candidates at once, adding to the media's favorite narrative with this primary that Mitt Romney is the uninspiring frontrunner of a generally weak field. Notably, however, only left-leaning pundits tend to make the "Obama wins" observation.
Why else? After eight debates, we concede that pundits must be running out of material. Never fear, there's another debate November 9, and we're pretty sure at least one person will think Barack Obama won that one, too.