It’s that time of year where political nerds get as excited about TV as jocks do about the super bowl. It’s the time where everyone’s expectations get inflated to embarrassing levels upon reflection. It’s presidential debate season. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will meet three times, October 3, 16, and the twenty-seventh. In the same breath of speaking about Mitt’s self-destruction, people also mention the debates as his only hope. And, with Romney losing nearly every swing state in the polls, they may be right. But since these are two cautious, very prepared, and moderate men; if we are waiting for sparks to fly we should probably stick to football.
The topics of the first debate, on October 3, have already been announced. It is focused broadly around domestic policy, and the economy alone has 45 minutes devoted to it. It will be the first topic, and the candidates will use it as an opportunity to plant their flags in opposing ideological grounds. President Barack Obama will say he is trying to let everyone have a fair chance. Governor Mitt Romney will say that the government inhibits people and that we should let the market use its holy justice.
As the debate shifts to its other three subjects, health care, the role of government, and governing, Obama and Romney will use each issue as a convenient pivot back to the economy. They will even say, “there is a stark difference between me and my opponent on this issue!” And we just might get a smirk or two.
We merely have two men, who we are already extremely familiar with, coming together to talk at each other about subjects they are already well versed in and probably overly prepared for. There may be some awkward sentence structures, and minor visible irritation, but devastating gaffes and crushed opponents are not going to happen. This isn’t the Republican primary.
It really makes all the talk of the debates being a “must win” for Romney even more moot. Nobody really wins presidential debates anymore. They merely just don’t mess them up. It’s almost as if by baiting him to really lay it on the president during the debates, pundits are actually just setting Romney up to take a leap and make just the sort of devastating gaffe that they would talk about for weeks. “News making news” as they say.
The next two debates will be pretty much the same, whether they are town halls (October 16th) or about foreign policy (October 22nd). But if you’re really just watching the debates for self-induced mistakes, then the last debate on October 22nd is the one I’d suggest you tune into. If Romney’s fortunes don’t improve he may grow desperate and use that debate as a last-ditch gambit. Considering its focus is also on Romney’s weakest subject (and some would say Obama’s strongest) it has a very high potential for hilarity.