Mitt Romney’s push for the presidency has not been without numerous gaffes, obstacles and overall PR nightmares. But the PR question which both Romney and Obama now face has less to do with leaked footage and more to do with authorized footage: the upcoming televised presidential debates.
This week’s Mother Jones video release – in which Romney commented at a donor event that 47% of President Barack Obama’s supporters are dependent on the government and won’t vote for him anyway – left his campaign with two choices: either clarify the comments and explain that they were poorly worded, or stand by the remarks and have a conversation about welfare and the economy.
So, in true Romney fashion, the campaign chose both.
The week will close with a news cycle dominated by his comments and the choice to embrace them, but what is now considered an offensive move started off as yet another defensive response with Romney’s acknowledgment Monday that his remarks were inelegant.
Using a video from 1998, the campaign attacked Obama’s view that the government should redistribute the country’s wealth. Republicans seem to embrace that choice by the Romney campaign, but are less warm to the defense of his 47%comments. It is unclear whether Romney will need the votes of that 47% of America, or if he was never going to get them on his side anyway.
So now we look to the debates, which will kick off on Wednesday, October 3 at 9 P.M. EST. Jim Lehrer, co-founder and executive editor of NewsHour on PBS, will moderate the first debate, which will focus on domestic policy. Lehrer has said he is a fan of the new format (six segments, 15 minutes each) and sees his role as moderator as a civic duty.
“This is not a game of one-upmanship,” Lehrer said in a post on the NewsHour site.
“It’s really aimed to get the candidates to talk about the things that really matter. We’re not going to play a game of gotcha. I don’t believe in that, we've never done that on the NewsHour and I certainly wouldn’t do that in this debate.”
If Lehrer won’t bring on the pressure, both camps are free to do exactly as they have been for the last few months: speak in general terms about the issues but not deliver specific policy options.
Except that three of the six segments will be about the economy. And with 45 minutes of air time, you’d think something new must be said. We’ll not call it surprising our candidates, but there is reason to hope that this first debate could bring what has been two mud-slinging presidential campaigns back into real issues that real people care about.
Lehrer also announced Wednesday that the other three segments will focus on “health care, the role of government and governing.” Maybe the public will finally know what Romney’s revised Affordable Care Act will look like on his first day in office. Or maybe we’ll get 30 more minutes on Obama’s socialist tendencies.
But for now, it is safe to say that both candidates will need to show up on October 3 with plans of action, and not just slick rhetoric, if they – and the hopeful viewing public – are going to make it through 90 minutes of debate.