So let me just get this in here before the big Presidential Debate tomorrow, and feel free to make fun of me if I am wrong. I predict that Mitt won't do very well and the debate will be in no way a game changer. Since the Mittster is on trajectory to lose, this outcome would be a strategic defeat for him.
First of all it's important to remember that Political Science has shown
that for a variety of reasons debates don't have that big of a impact in a Presidential race. At this point in a campaign most voters have
made up their minds already and will interpret what happens in a debate
as simply reinforcing what they already thought. In fact, most people
who watch these things are more like football fans turning in to root
their team on, not try and make a decision on who to vote for. John
Kerry probably came as close as you can come to "winning" a debate (all
three I'd say), he of course did not win. Finally I'd add that
campaigns spend a lot of time preparing for these things and so like
convention speeches they are always "good enough."
Even with those codifiers, it looks like Mitt is embracing a pretty bad
strategy to boot, which certainly won't help him. As the Pravda of the conservative movement (National Review) put it, team Romney has five big
objectives: "(1) explaining the “choice” between the two candidates’
modulating his natural “aggressiveness” (which actually sounds like
“defensiveness when challenged”); (3) exhibiting “discipline” (i.e., not
committing gaffes); (4) using fiscal and economic data effectively; and
(5) deploying personal anecdotes to “introduce himself” to people just
now tuning in to the election." Let's go through these priorities one
1. Mitt has been running for president for six years now. He's been
the GOP front runner since last fall and recently had a speech on
national television during his convention to explain this. He hasn't
exactly been doing a good job of it. If he can't explain why his
policies would be better than Obama's during his acceptance speech or
during the summer, how' he going to do it in a 90 minute debate?
2. This is not a bad idea in and of itself, but its more of a method of
style than an actual goal to meet during the debate. Reagan was very
good at expressing contempt warmly, Romney just seems to get mad.
3. Again this isn't much of a goal. A bad gaffe might make Mitt look
bad, and more importantly dominate the post debate media spin wars. But
it won't change the dynamics of the race. In addition, the fact that
Mitt has to pursue five different, possibly conflicting, objectives has
got to be a bit confusing, thus raising the risk of the dreaded gaffes.
4. This has to be a bad idea. A large section of dwindling supply of
genuine undecided voters are low-information voters, the types of people
who probably won't respond well to a bunch of statistics about GDP
growth targets. Mitt is running for President not making a pitch to a
group of junk bond inventors, he needs a Clintonesque "I feel your pain"
moment, not a Ross Perot pie chart moment.
5. This goes back to point number one. How is Mitt going to
"introduce" himself if he couldn't during his own convention, a
multi-day media bonanza he had complete control over? Obama is not
going to sit there the whole time and keep quite, he's got some
anecdotes he can pull out to introduce another Romney to the nation too.
In short, a terrible plan.