Presidential Debate 1
Here we are at last. It’s time for the first Presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Jim Lehrer moderates tonight’s debate, hosted by the University of Denver at 7:00 PM MDT. The focus this time is on domestic issues.
The domestic focus puts Romney in a bit of a bind, since he has reason to strike while the iron is hot, with respect to the issues in the Middle East. But he risks looking foolish if he comes across as misunderstanding the topic of the day.
And this brings us to a preview of tonight’s issues for each of the two candidates.
Romney has spent a great deal of time over the past few weeks practicing for tonight. In particular, he has been practicing the delivery of “zingers”, in the hopes of getting a good press bounce this news cycle. He certainly can use such a bounce; thus far, he has squandered every opportunity he had up to this point.
Romney will almost certainly focus on the high unemployment and growing national debt. Those are his strongest arguments, but they also have some weak points. The number of jobs has returned to pre-recession levels, but the working-age population has increased, so the jobless rate remains stubbornly high. And Romney’s economic plan shows a sharply growing national debt as well.
The former Governor also has some major pitfalls he has to avoid.
He needs to give the impression that he is the candidate for all Americans. Given the domestic focus, Lehrer would be remiss if he didn’t ask about the 47 percent statement that came to light a little over a week ago. And Romney would be remiss if he hasn’t been practicing an answer to that very question. But it had better be an amazing answer, because the 47 percent statement added fuel to the already roaring fire of his “I’m for the rich” meme, which has been turning off significant parts of his base.
He needs to be very careful about how he discusses Obamacare. The individual mandate is still unpopular, but his shift from “repeal it all” to “keep everything except the mandate” is going to be a landmine studded field for him to navigate.
He needs to have an answer to his lack of detail on his economic plan. Promising to cut tax loopholes, and giving a dollar figure on it — but refusing to specify which loopholes they are — says he has something to hide. He could have gotten away with it if he hadn’t been so specific with regards to the expected results. But once he did that, he has to show his work in order to be credible. People who aren’t already predisposed to vote for him see through this sort of thing. His $17,000 deduction cap suggestion is interesting, but smacks a bit of being off the cuff.
And he needs to have an answer for his refusal to release his tax returns. If Lehrer doesn’t hit him on that, Obama surely will.
But most of all, he needs to come across as human. His stiff delivery, looking uncomfortable even when he feigns comfort, keeps his television audience at arm’s-length. It’s possible to overcome that stiffness, but Romney has so many disadvantages at this point that he needs all the help he can get.
Obama’s task is less difficult in many respects. He’s ahead in all of the polls, especially in several key states. He has a reputation for being more personable than Romney. And he makes fewer verbal gaffes than his opponent.
On the other hand, he is expected to do better. And sitting Presidents tend to have a hard time in reëlection debates. Part of this is the equalization that occurs when the two candidates share the same stage; it makes the challenger look “Presidential”. Part of this is that Presidents necessarily live in a bubble, surrounded by people who don’t challenge them much. When one gets used to everyone around saying “yes”, it’s irritating to be around someone who is challenging at every turn.
And this is the source of Obama’s Achilles’ heel tonight. When he’s at ease, he can be really compelling. When he’s annoyed, he comes across as condescending and petulant. His job tonight is to stay at ease, and keep the arrogance at bay.
Obama has the improving economy on his side — though it’s not a powerful argument, given that it has been a weak recovery. He has the benefits that are already appearing from Obamacare, benefits which are sufficiently popular that Romney has already said he wants to keep them.
All in all, this should be an interesting evening.
What do you think is going to happen? What questions would you like to see asked? How do you think the candidates will respond? How will they do in general, and particularly against expectations?
The debate starts at 9:00 PM EDT (6:00 PM PDT). It will be carried by the major networks, and will also be available online streamed by YouTube. We look forward to you joining us tonight for the live event, and trying out our new commenting service as part of it.
- As moderator of DU’s presidential debate, Lehrer knows risks (denverpost.com)
- Jim Lehrer Announces First Presidential Debate Topics (huffingtonpost.com)
- YouTube to live stream 2012 presidential debates for first time (sfluxe.com)
- Stakes for Denver debate are mile high for Mitt Romney (freep.com)
- An Advanced Marketing Strategy: Why Mitt Romney Wants You to Think Barack Obama Is a Better Debater (prweb.com)
- Obama, Romney neck-and-neck ahead of debates, say polls (thehindu.com)
- Obama v Romney: tense US presidential debate looms (guardian.co.uk)
- U.S. Presidential poll: Denver debate seen as potential “game-changer” (thehindu.com)