It’s probably not particularly controversial to expect Obama to win the debates, particularly the first one. Despite all of the White House claims downplaying the president’s lack of preparation and conservative claims that Obama can’t speak without a teleprompter, Obama is hands down a better public speaker than Mitt Romney and has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to speak extemporaneously with confidence and authority. Romney, on the other hand, is not a particularly good public speaker. During the Republican primary debates, he was prone to gaffes and was frequently upstaged by a sub-par field of contenders. That said, there is more hindering Romney than theatrics and presentation: Romney is stuck in a losing position.
Romney is the presidential nominee of a political party that is completely out of step with the American electorate. Contrary to Fox News and conservative talking points, the majority of the country is not conservative–and never has been. George W. Bush didn’t get elected because most people are conservatives (I am not completely confident he ever got elected at all–but that’s another post), he got votes by disguising conservatism as something else. “Compassionate conservatism” was just window dressing to cover up the ugly, every-man-for-himself cutthroat philosophy of modern day conservatism, and even that wispy facade has been completely abandoned (as evidenced by cheers when Ron Paul described someone dying for lack of health coverage). Romney is hindered by the fact that he is representing a party whose positions run exactly contrary to the national norm. Objectively, I should feel bad for him: He’s in an impossible position. Honestly, I just think he’s a putz and deserves what he’s going to get.
Romney is basically facing a terrible choice for any candidate: he either plays to his base and goes hardcore conservative–which pisses off most of the electorate and makes him unelectable–or he swings hard moderate, plays to his record as governor as Massachusetts (his only elected role) and attempts to woo the undecided middle. What makes this a terrible choice is that attracting the voters he needs to attract will alienate him from the voters he should already have in the bag. It only pays off if he wins more voters than he kills in the process. I can honestly say I don’t envy the man; it’s like a Hobson’s Choice where all the horses are dead. It’s as if all he’s choosing is which flies he wants to hang around with.
There is a slight possibility that Romney can pull something off. He could achieve a miracle, he could turn his campaign around. That is all hinged on him turning in a great debate performance, one in which he comes across as reachable, erudite, informed and in touch. A debate performance in which he strikes a chord as a champion of the people, who understands the plight of the electorate in these troubling times, while simultaneously casting Obama as the Lord of Wall Street and the defender of the Privileged class.
For Romney to do this, he would need to have a masterful debate performance. He would need to be charming, erudite, reachable, comfortable, honest, accurate, confident, and brilliant. Id Est, Mitt Romney would need to be everything that he has not been during every other minute of his entire political career.
It’s possible, of course. It’s not likely. Romney is a third rate amateur politician going up against a seasoned professional. Obama tore McCain up in 2008, and McCain was a seasoned, veteran politician with 40 years in the game–Romney has won exactly one election, and that against a weak opponent.
My prediction is that Mitt Romney can count this debate as a victory if he doesn’t thoroughly embarrass himself–but that the likelihood of that happening is slim to none.
Realistically, I think he’ll say a lot of halfway stupid things that the media will try and spin as not nearly as asinine as they are, if only to preserve their “bipartisan” reputation and pretend this is still a race.
Fearless prediction: Mitt will lose at least three polling points in the two weeks after this debate, above and beyond all the points he’s already lost in the three weeks preceding it. Three points may not sound like much, but this close to election day–when most voters have all but made up their minds–that would represent a huge swing. Given that most politicians have solidified their base voters and are only playing for the small minority of swing voters by this point, three points would be a major victory. I predict Obama will have it.