Civil Discourse Now

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Can Romney win in the presidential "debates"?

   The first presidential "debate" will occur on October 3.

   The dish on Mitt Romney is that he brings opponents down to his level. In my years of competitive debate in high school and, especially, college, and I understand the principle that a bad opponent can screw up a good team. The effect is akin to the pouring of Karo® syrup into the gear of the machinery of the brain.

   Comparisons frequently are drawn between sports and politics. In sports there is less subjective wiggle room. To use football as an example, there are a goal line, end side lines, goal posts, and a football. The rules state what a touchdown is. The substitute NFL refs established in the Green Bay-Seattle game there still is wiggle room that can have a significant effect, but in politics—as in debate, in which words were the basis of competition—the subjective aspect is far greater.

   Mitt Romney has lost points in the polls over the past two weeks. A lot of commentators have said he needs a big win in the debate, particularly the first, to make some sort of comeback.

   I do not see a Romney "win" over President Obama in the debates.

   Romney seems to let his opponent choose the strategy. The exception was in his confrontation with Gingrich. Romney, in a change from his prior "style" in the Republican candidates’ beauty contest, took the argument to Gingrich, whom I thought would respond in like kind. I was surprised when the former speaker did nothing.

   I do not see President Obama become flummoxed against the former governor of Michigan.

   Romney does not want to go to content. If so, the President can copy Ted Kennedy’s playbook and argue a variation of the "multiple Mitt" line the late Senator used. There also is the matter of business sense, that Romney had wanted to push as his chief asset, and the little matter of Bain Capital, the substance of that asset.

   We then are left with form. In this either we look to see which of the two men appears more "presidential." We have seen Romney become flustered in television interviews and crowd appearances where the pressure is far less than a debate in front of a television audience of a couple of hundred million in which the office for which Romney has run the last six or seven years is on the line. Romney’s demeanor is not what I would discern as cool and calm.

   President Obama, in contrast, told jokes (at Donald Trump’s expense) at the Washington Correspondents dinner at the same time Seal team took out bin Laden. The President knew the team was in motion because he had given the orders.

   As I said the other day, I do not view these interactions as real debates. A debate should involve direct clash with cross-examination. With that said, I do not see the debates as a means by which Romney can claim a win. The only question is whether the President can be rattled such that he suffers a loss. I do not see that as a likely outcome.

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