“Free people and free enterprise are more effective at reducing costs than government will ever be.” Gov. Romney said this, in regard to health care and the unelected Independent Payment Advisory Board that ObamaCare creates to oversee the plan’s implementation, at about six minutes past the hour mark. That thought is one that President Obama could never honestly utter. A tweet rolled by: “Romney is opening up Obama on IPAB like a boiled peanut.” Another noted that Obama’s open derision was unbecoming for him. The president struck me as frustrated with Romney and with the structure of the debate. When Romney violated the debate’s time limits, which he did routinely, he seemed eager to answer and get to the next fact. Obama seemed touchy and constrained. Romney had struck him for wasting two years while the American economy foundered, on ObamaCare, which hurt job creation. That took some of the wind out of the president. In football terms, it had the effect of the trailing team driving across the 50 yard line, only to throw an interception that turned into a pick six.

With 15 minutes left on the clock, Mitt Romney outlined his principles: based on the Constitution, with a strong military and a strong economy, empowering individuals and caring for the hurting. Romney projected optimism, caring, openness and a connection to the factual real world in that moment, a moment that may have changed the race and put him on a trajectory to become president of the United States. He closed that segment with another strike on Obama’s “trickle-down government” philosophy: “We know that the path we are on is not working, it’s time for a new path.” On the president’s green energy “investments,” Romney charged that “You don’t just pick winners and losers, you pick the losers.” Obama never appeared to realize that for every single problem, he proposes government as the answer. A majority of American voters consistently view government as less a solution than the problem itself.

By this point, Obama had spoken for about 10% more than Romney had, yet had stayed in the world of anecdotes and away from hard facts and statistics. Romney had pummeled the president with a barrage of facts. His energy gone, the president struggled even to explain his education policies. Obama accused Romney of plotting to cut education funding, but Romney retorted: “Mr. President, you’re entitled to your airplane and your house, but not to your own facts.” He struck the president again for wasting money on greendoggles, and noted that many of the recipients had been the president’s political supporters. It was probably too subtle a way to introduce the president’s cronyism, but time will tell whether that passage introduced that angle into the presidential conversation.

Gov. Mitt Romney destroyed President Barack Obama in this first debate. Had it been a boxing match, it would have been called after the first round, supposing that Obama was still on his feet. Tonight’s contest was as brutal a thumping as Americans have seen in a presidential debate to date. The president should have skipped the trip to Hoover Dam and buckled down to his debate prep. Obama was overmatched, badly, all night. And while his energy and demeanor flagged, Romney’s seemed to gather up and gain strength.

But watch George Stephanopoulos, Chris Matthews, Matt Lauer and the majority of the mainstream media turn Obama’s embarrassing performance into a triumph of some sort. No matter what really happens, they have their story to tell and they have their president to protect and re-elect.

More: When one of your biggest fans tweets that you need a teleprompter…

More: Frank Luntz’s focus group voted almost to a person that Romney won. They described Obama’s performance as “flat” and “passionless.” They described Romney as strong and in command.

CBS insta-polled the debate: 46% think Romney won, 22% think Obama won. Honestly, I’m surprised it was that close.