Monday, October 15, 2012

Get Ready To Rumble: The Next Presidential Debate

These aren't supposed to matter. The Conventional Wisdom (which has been relatively shattered by now) is that presidential debates usually don't matter and VP debates almost never do. It's also said that "people only ever watch the first debate anyway."

The VP debate drew 51.4 Million Viewers which is about 5 Million fewer than Palin-Biden and about 16 Million fewer than Obama-Romney. That's still an awful lot of viewers.

So much for the conventional wisdom. The CW also says that no Republican has ever won the presidency without also winning Ohio--which looks more stable for Obama as of today. The CW's track record should give Democrats some pause. No election is "normal" and this one is already an outlier for a number of reasons (that link is fairly mind-blowing, by the way, if you are interested in conspiracy-theory thinking).

What's Going On?
What's going in is Round 2 ... FIGHT! Obama has apparently been woken up (maybe after the sky-dive he's taken some RedBull intravenously?) and Romney is apparently ready for him with "good answers" for the 47% comments. After Ryan got (fairly) pummeled by Biden (whether you think it worked or not, was fair, or not, or was rude or not, the fact that Ryan got talked over pretty badly is hard to dispute and he did not, for example, offer a strong defense of the Makers vs. Takers argument) Romney is probably well prepared for what Obama is going to throw at him.


What Can We Expect?
We can expect a crisper more aggressive Obama. For sure. After the last debate, looking up will qualify. Here are some questions that we should get answers to:

  1. New Line of Attack? If Obama throws all the old stuff at Romney--the 47%, no stated loopholes, and release-the-taxes, he deserves the zingers he's going to get. Romney knows all of these (oh, and Big Bird too) and should be able to hit back pretty easily. We'll look at this a little more below but ... if Team Obama doesn't come at him from left field with something they are, well, drawing at best a "B" (and that "B" only comes if they do the attack well).
  2. Completely Wrong! If you go to google images and google Completely Wrong, you see pictures of Mitt Romney popping up. So that does beg the question (no, I do mean--wait, yes ... but--no, no wait ... read the whole Wikipedia article ... down to the end ... I'll wait) "What is Romney's answer to the 47%"--I mean, he's going to say he was completely wrong--but what does he say "after that?" Does he say Ryan was also wrong about Makers-and-Takers? Does he pivot to entitlements immediately? Does he ask Obama about the 57 States thing? Or ask "Can you say Biden was Completely Wrong about not knowing about the request for more security in Libya?" What does he say? How contrite is he? Does he want to convince us he's changed? Or just hit Obama harder? This is a pretty important tactical choice.
  3. Where Is The Obama-Attack Slide Bar? Between Asleep and Joe Biden, where does Obama try to stick it? Romney is likely to approach the debate like a consultant--what he knows--and what was successful: talking to voters like they were potential investors. I doubt he'll change that--and he wants to narrow the battlespace too and avoid hot-button social issues ... so that's pretty stable as well. He might attack Obama on abortion ... but I doubt it: any "women's issue" will be tricky ground for him. I'd expect him to hammer away at Libya if he can manage that. But where Obama comes down will be telling. The base wants to see Obama "bring it." We have no idea if ordinary voters want that ... probably not--and I don't think Obama really wants to be grinning when Romney is saying Obama's carelessness got our Ambassador killed. Plus: Obama can't really look outraged ... so what does he do? Good question.
  4. Romney's Next Trick: To assume Romney doesn't have some trick up his sleeve would be catastrophic. Strategic doctrine says that all your prep for next war means you basically "fight the last one." Romney knows this--so he's going to do something new--something to off-balance Obama. The question is what? The deal is this: Romney doesn't want a tie--he wants another win. If not a knock-out, at least a split decision. If he can do that, he can peel off a few more undecideds and flip the swing states. So he's not resting on his laurels. He's there to bring it ... what's he bringing?
What Do I Think?
I think that Romney's line of attack is going to be to try to force the president into a corner and trap him there. In the town-hall format this may be a lot harder to do--but I'd expect the questions to be pretty hard hitting and Romney needs to set the narrative quickly. The narrative is this: YOU. ARE. CARTER.
  • Bungled Middle East Policy. We saw that launched with Ryan: "This is the unraveling of the president's middle east policy." Ryan didn't exactly say which parts of Obama's approach he disagreed with (he would've ... said more ... earlier ... about Iran ... okay, great? Would he have bombed Iran during the Green Revolution? Sounds like "no").
  • Economy Flagging. This one is a gimme.
  • Malaise: He wants to hit Obama as a blame-the-other-guy president. Bush ... the American people ... America herself.
What would I do if I were him? What would my secret weapon be? I'm not sure--but here's a thought: Hit him on his first debate! Call him lazy for not prepping. Call him tired for, well, looking tired. Say that was the "Real Obama" out there because hey, we know he's exhausted from his four years of failure so, voters: give the guy a break! 

What's Obama gonna do? Claim he had a good first debate?

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