I am not predicting a “winner” or “loser” in this piece, I am merely speculating about the facts of this debate that work in Romney’s favor and the potential of the first debate to revive the momentum in the Romney campaign.
With the first presidential debate less than a week away, and Romney’s campaign struggling to separate itself from a series of rough news cycles, the question many people are asking is whether the debates will help Romney turn the tide or present another obstacle. Looking at the debates and how both candidates are going into them, I think Romney is set up to come out ahead in the first one. Here are 7 reasons why:
1. The expectations game.
Romney’s campaign has been stumbling recently, but when it comes to the debates this will work in their favor by lowering expectations for him. After a calamitous few weeks there are have been some serious doubts about the campaign’s competency. If Romney makes it through the debates without a major mistake, his party will be relieved and reassured that there is some life left in his campaign. This is a strategy that is often attempted by campaigns that attempt to tamper expectations, but this ruse is becoming transparent. Romney’s team doesn’t have to tell people to have low expectations for his debate performance, because after the past few weeks people already have fairly low expectations for him.
2. He can't hurt himself anymore.
Point one discussed why it will be easy for Romney to gain momentum, here I would like to suggest that it would be hard for him to lose momentum. In order for Romney to do any damage to his campaign he would have to screw up in a way so large that it would overshadow the past few miserable weeks. While this may be possible, I doubt it will happen. Most of the mistakes Romney would make won’t lose him any voters that his previous mistakes haven’t already lost him.
3. He knows he needs this.
Sometimes candidates don’t know what events will make or break their campaign. This is not one of those times. After recent poor performances everyone knows that Romney needs a win, and this is his chance to get it. Unless his campaign is truly incompetent they will have him in debate practice as often as possible under as rigorous of circumstances as reasonable. Romney needs to have his facts straight and his lines ready, and everyone working for him should already know this.
4. He has been through primary debates recently.
While Obama has debated before it has been a while, not so for Romney. Just earlier this year he ended the last of many, many, many debates, most of which he seemed to win. No preparation will ever so exactly match an event as participation in the event itself. I don’t know that it will take Obama long to find his feet on the debate floor, but Romney already has his footing. It’s a small difference but as the debate opens it could be what helps Romney set the tone.
(Romney will of course have to keep in mind that his audience is much different than that of the primary debates, but I doubt that will be a major issue.)
5. It’s the president’s record that will suffer the most scrutiny.
Romney’s campaign has been all about the state our country is in now. His argument throughout the campaign has been, look at how bad things are. While Obama may not be responsible for all the different numbers and policies that will come up, he is easily tied to anything that has happened during his term. It is much more difficult for Obama to tie Romney to current problems because Romney hasn’t been making policy. Most, if not all, the numbers that come up will be about Obama’s term and that is a fight the President can lose because he is easily tied (fairly or not) to all the numbers and there are more bad numbers than good ones right now, and because people care more about what is broken than what is fixed. We take the latter for granted.
(This attack is still somewhat difficult. Romney will have to be careful to attack the policies rather than the President because many Americans like the President.)
6. He can use the element of surprise.
Romney’s campaign has faced lots of criticism for not offering specific solutions and plans for the country. However if he were to start revealing policy initiatives during the debate Obama would be forced to respond to the suggestions without having time to fully consider them. This may be the best chance Romney gets to outline his policies to the people directly and in a way that gives his opposition no time to formulate an attack. It will allow him to present his plans before his opponents can caricature them.
7. The debate is about domestic policy.
Romney is knowledgeable and credible on domestic policy. If the first debate were about foreign policy he’d have a much harder time. The president will have the upper hand here due to four years of experience as the Commander-in-Chief. It would take an enormous amount of effort to understand the intricacies of foreign affairs as well as anyone who is actually involved in them. Luckily this topic isn’t a part of this first debate, meaning Romney can stick to his stronger issues
Anything working in Romney’s favor I missed? Anyone care to look at the advantages for Obama? Anyone think I’m totally wrong? I look forward to reading what you think in the comments.