I still think the supposed awfulness of President Obama’s performance in the first debate a couple of weeks ago was, and remains, overblown, but, needless to say, he didn’t do well, Romney lied his way to a resounding “win” (according to polls and pundits alike), and a lot of the “soft” support in the race shifted to Romney.
Indeed, Romney managed simultaneously to energize depressed Republicans, who were increasingly seeing Romney as a terrible and largely unelectable candidate thanks largely to the Obama campaign’s successful defining of Romney as an out-of-touch, right-wing plutocrat (which he is, of course) over the summer and a less-than-steller Republican convention, and present himself as a credible candidate, thanks to his “Moderate Mitt” lies, to independents, undecideds, and “soft” Obama supporters, those who may have been on Obama’s side according to the polls but who hadn’t been paying all that much attention to the race and who, upon seeing Romney pretty much for the first time at the debate, were easily lured over to the Republican side.
Vice President Biden did a remarkable job last week, and generally the story since the first presidential debate has seen the president energized on the campaign trail and saying a lot of things so many of us wish he had said during the debate. But the fact is, debates matter, particularly in this American Idol, social media age of ours. They’re theater like never before and superficial snap judgements simply go viral before any of the substance can be sorted out.
The result has been a major bump for Romney both nationally and in swing states, a tightening of the race to the point, and even some polls showing Romney now leading.
So the pressure’s on President Obama tonight. Huge, massive pressure.
And I’m incredibly nervous.
I have no doubt that the president will do better, much better, than he did in the first debate. But Mitt will do well too. As I wrote after the first debate, it was ridiculous to think that Romney was going to go out there, curl up in a fetal position, and weep with fear just for being in Obama’s presence. He’s a seasoned debater and an experienced campaigner and politician. He’s a bad politician in many ways — as we’ve seen time and time again, including on his foreign trip over the summer — but he’s a pro, and he generally carries himself well. And I suspect he’ll do that again tonight. Ryan had a bit of the deer in headlights look to him last week, with Biden all over him, but Romney will look and sound presidential and very much worthy of being on the stage with the president.
Furthermore, the debate format doesn’t do the president any favors. As Jon Chait wrote earlier today:
A town hall debate is not really a debate. It is a kind of competitive question-answering show. The format revolves around undecided voters tossing queries at the candidates. The whole gestalt of the program is to privilege interaction between the candidates and the regular people speaking with them — for them to press each other with queries makes them look like they are avoiding the questions. Worst still, voters can be counted on to implore them to stop attacking each other and just get along.
And so the opportunities to expose the omissions and outright falsehoods in Romney’s repositioning will be vastly more limited than they were in the first debate, and the risks of attacking them much greater. This isn’t to say Obama can’t try to take Romney apart, only that the potential for such attacks to backfire is both large and — here is the crucial thing — uncertain.
I don’t disagree, but it’s possible that this format will play to the president’s advantage, as he’s able to connect more genuinely with “real” people than Romney is — because he’s genuinely compassionate and genuinely cares about the plight not just of the 47% but of all Americans, whereas Romney is a shameless panderer. But will this come out? Or, rather, will “soft” voters be able to pick up on this? Perhaps not, and another strong performance by Romney, however phony, could even the playing field in this regard.
On substance, I expect Romney to continue his dishonest “Moderate Mitt” routine, once again trying to lie his way into the hearts and minds of low-information voters. Obama can’t pull a Biden, because that was a different format and vice presidents can do things a little differently (especially Biden), but he needs to call Romney on his lying as much as possible. He also needs to continue the characterization of Romney that was so successful over the summer, through the Democratic convention, and into the fall — really, up until the first debate. He can’t be mean about it, but he needs to make the case that it’s all, the whole Romney-Ryan platform, a bunch of “malarkey,” as Biden said. Furthermore, he needs to talk about what he has done without being overly self-congratulatory, and he needs to talk about what he’d do in a second term in reasonable and detailed ways. That’s a tough task, all that together, and he needs to walk a careful line, but it’s certainly within his abilities to do it well.
But what about style, which is really all the media establishment cares about? It’s certainly possible that a strong performance by the president will be praised simply for being so much better than his terrible showing in the first debate. But, again, I expect Romney to stand firm, look and sound good (his lying notwithstanding), and at least appear to be the president’s equal. And that could mean a “win” for Mitt based simply on the fact that he’ll reinforce his new image as competent, sensible, and electable. That may not have any basis in the facts, but no matter, just as the facts don’t really matter in these things. It’s theater, and another good “act” from Romney could be enough to cement his newfound success, making it all the more difficult for Obama to gain the upper hand again over the campaign’s remaining three weeks.
So, yes, I’m worried that even a draw will essentially be a Romney “win” and that the media will play right along with the ongoing dumbing down of the American political process, allowing Romney to get away with a relentless deluge of dishonesty.
We shall see. It starts soon. And my anxiety is growing.
I have nothing brilliant to say. I hope the president shows up, metaphorically speaking, and does well. Glass of wine in hand. Popcorn ready to go. That’s it.
Okay, I will say this. Obama will have to find a way to call Romney a liar without appearing too harsh. He can’t do it the same way Biden did. That’s not his style. But he will have to find his own way to do it. And make no mistake, Romney’s pivot to the center will continue. The lies will continue. Moderate Mitt will be there tonight and it’s all bullshit. Not only has Obama’s team prepared him to challenge Romney, but Romney’s team as prepared him to respond to the challenges. It will be interesting.
It will be interesting to see how both candidates do in a town hall forum. Mr. Obama is pretty good at working a crowd; he has shown that he can respond to questions in a human way as long as he doesn’t go off into paragraphs. I don’t think he does it because he’s trying to impress us with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the facts; he just doesn’t know how to abstract things to a single simple sentence while avoiding the ten-word answer. His saving grace is that when he’s talking to someone, you actually get the feeling he knows he’s talking to someone. With Mitt Romney, it’s hard to tell that he’s aware he’s addressing a person and not just talking. (He reminds me of the man, played by Pat Harrington, from TPC in this scene from one of the better subversive movies of the 1960s, The President’s Analyst.)
I don’t expect much tonight. Obama will undoubtedly be more engaged than he was last time. He’s better at town-hall-style events anyway, so this is to be expected. And it is certain that Obama will hit back at Romney regarding his policies and about his ever-changing policy claims. I think something will be said about Romney claiming one thing on stage only to have his campaign walk it back quietly later, as we saw with the pre-existing conditions claim. So that’s all good.
But the bad will be really hard to sit through. Romney will continue his smash-one-man play, “Moderate Mitt Promises Everything He’s Against!” And he won’t be called on it. Instead, he’ll look commanding, and above all else, “presidential.” I expect to be screaming at the TV machine through much of the debate.
In the end, I suspect the “debate” will be a draw, with Obama getting the call because he didn’t suck as much as last time.
On a personal level: I hope Obama kicks ass tonight and that America sees Romney for the power-hungry demagogue that he is. But in a town hall “debate” with pre-approved questions, how likely is that to happen?
Boy, am I nervous. Why? Debate Number 2, of course! It could literally make or break Obama’s chances of re-election, and that can’t happen, especially not on Long Island! Folks, this is serious!
For anyone still not living in reality, a little refresher as to where we are… Ahem… Issues do not matter! Character does not matter! Lies do not matter! Truth. Does. Not. Matter!
The 2012 presidential election is a horse race, a reality show, and American Idol all rolled into one. As we saw with the last debate, whatever Obama says during these dabates is totally lost on a nation of bleary-eyed, obese, teevee watchers who know only quick edits and lots and lots of drama. The first debate, if you recall, had none of that. The VP debate, on the other hand, was overflowing with it and we loved it!
That’s not to say Romney didn’t deliver in the first debate. Aside from his Big Bird comment, he took the night because Obama forgot the most important fact that every president is supposed to remember. When you are on TV, you must remember that you are on TV!
Fact is, Romney won because his opponent never showed. It was really a forfeit when you think about it. Had Obama brought his A-game, the outcome would have been much different. Instead, Obama went on live television and gave a policy talk and was subsequently destroyed. If he had done this on C-SPAN, do you think he would have failed? Hell no! He would have been leading the meeting and, more than likely, putting those folks to sleep too. Let’s face it, governing is boring.
But, Mr. President, NBC, ABC, FOX, and CNN are not C-SPAN. It is infotainment, and a televised debate is not a policy meeting! And you have to remember that with Republicans the bar is set very, very low. We don’t expect much from them and when they deliver, even a little bit, it comes across as impressive to many people. On the other hand, Democrats are expected to be the adults in the room and fully in charge. When they fail to deliver, we just want to jump off a cliff. Had Obama brought his “Biden” with him for the first debate, we would not be talking about this. Instead, all Obama did was give himself a lot of extra work and now has to go over the top just to make up for lost time.
Bottom line, tonight is a must-win for Obama. He must come to this debate as “speech-giving” Obama, “teleprompter reading” Obama, “church-going” Obama. Whatever the hell it takes, we need that! Just remember, Mr. President that our attention span is short. Most viewers are not listening to you. Sure, there is radio, but what is this, 1944? We are mostly watching and mostly wondering why your flag pin is smaller than your opponent’s, how your tie looks, how white your shirt is, if you look sleepy, if Romney has a spray-on tan. Tonight is also a town hall and so we will also be looking at your pants, your shoes, the way you stand, where you put your hands. In other words, we will focus less on what you say than how you say it. It’s all visual. Most important, remember that you are not doing this for me or for people like me. We already know who we are going to vote for. We have known this for years. There are far more important people watching tonight that you need to reach.
We are three weeks away from the big day, and now is when those moronic, no-nothing, so-called independents come out of their slumber and finally start paying attention to this election. This debate is for them, the stupid people. Talk to them. Reach them. Don’t let Romney commandeer them, Mr. President. You need to scoop them up and hold them close. Talk directly to them and remember that they are mostly Jay Leno-watching, high-fructose eating, Honey Boo Boo-watching, overweight, uneducated morons. They do not understand policy. If you go there, they will change the channel. You don’t want that.
Remember, Mr. President, you are on all the other channels too, and this only reminds the “undecideds” that you have preempted their favorite f**king shows! In other words they are already going in angry.
Don’t make it worse!
Do yourself a favor tonight, Mr. President, and simply call out Romney on all of his lies. Keep him on the defensive and do it dramatically, aggressively, and confidently. Laugh your ass off, shake your head in disbelief. Just be sure to keep that motherf**ker on the ropes until the final bell. You can do this, Mr. President. This should be easy for you. Don’t forget who the president is, and please, whatever you do, don’t f*ck this up.