The clothes had no emperor---or president.

It was a vanishing act of the most extreme. Someone start rolling milk cartons off the presses with the president's mug on them.

"Have you seen me?"

Mitt Romney is a magician. He walked on stage at the University of Denver last night, opened his mouth, and made Barack Obama disappear.

Obama, for his part, did some "Abracadabra" of his own---by making Romney's baggage go away, just like that. Someone check back stage for an albatross slithering away, freed from Romney's neck.

Last night's presidential debate was made out to be Muhammad Ali vs. Chuck Wepner, redux. The challenger didn't have a chance to touch the champ, right? Obama was going to wipe the floor with the former Massachusetts governor.

But unlike the Ali-Wepner bout, which featured the overmatched challenger Wepner hanging tough by showing he could take the pounding of a lifetime from champion Ali, it was the champ/president who entered the ring and immediately went into Ali's famed Rope-a-Dope.

Romney pounded and pounded, from the get go, while Obama thrust his arms in front of his face, stood against the ropes, and took it, as if hoping Romney would tire his mouth out.

This was also a bout without a ref. Moderator Jim Lehrer was like one of those disrespected refs in a WWE match. Romney had as much respect for Lehrer as the Harlem Globetrotters do for the Washington Generals.

When tired of running roughshod over the president, Romney took to holding Lehrer in contempt, frequently ignoring the 78-year-old's feeble attempts to rein the governor in. At one point, early on, Romney declared, "I have the last word on this subject."

It was like a batter in baseball telling an umpire, "I get a fourth strike." And the umpire agreeing.

But Obama doesn't have Lehrer to blame. It was all on the president---the lack of fire, the refusal to break out even one weapon from an overloaded holster, the inexplicable silence on all the verbal and policy gaffes Romney has made in recent weeks.

Two of these men were invisible last night and the third pounced (guess)

Did you hear anything about 47%? Or offshore holdings? Or the multiple examples of flip-flopping? Or the hypocrisy on China?

Did you hear about Osama bin Laden (other than in the final 30 seconds)? Or the automotive bailout?

What was Obama waiting for? Approval from Lehrer, who one time inexplicably asked Romney, while the president was speaking, "Do you agree with the president?" thus allowing Romney a free opportunity to look good. And Romney took it.

But again, this is on Obama. He played it like a hockey team trying not to lose in the closing minutes, just dumping the puck out of their zone and hoping for the best, while the other guys pepper the goalie with shot after shot.

It could be rust. Romney debated just this year, while the president hasn't done this in four years.

Regardless, Obama was flat. A bottle of Pepsi left out for several days had more fizz.

There are two of these debates left. Suddenly they matter.


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