Matthews on debates: ‘You really don’t know how the battle’s going to go’


Let me finish tonight with this incredibly exciting debate coming up the night after tomorrow.

I know from experience how many of us watch these debates. We watch them with people of similar mind and decide that our guy won. We then cry out in utter surprise when we hear people saying the other guy did. 

I remember how the speechwriters for President Carter watched his debate with Ronald Reagan, and we were all together on the fact Carter had won it.  

So few of us will know who “won” Wednesday night ‘til we watch the shows, listen for the focus groups—we’ll have one here at midnight—and see how it’s going.  

And don’t think that’s going to be the last word. Back in 2000, the establishment people all agreed that Al Gore had beaten George W. in their third debate. Go back and look at the bites from that debate and you’ll laugh that anyone could say that. Why? Because it wasn’t a test of who knew the most, but of who came off as a self-confident leader and, what we call in politics, “the genuine article.” 

It’s not exactly fair, this debate business. Richard Nixon had to stand on the same stage with matinee idol Jack Kennedy. Reagan never did say what he would have done to spring the hostages. George Bush senior had to fight a two-front war with Bill Clinton—tough enough, wouldn’t you say—but against a pesky Ross Perot as well. John McCain had to defend an economy falling all around him.   

But by the time we get back here on Thursday, it’s going to matter—and no one knows how. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been caught up in politics since I can remember: because you really don’t know how the battle’s going to go.

Mitt Romney, Barack Obama and Hardball Let Me Finish

Matthews on debates: 'You really don't know how the battle's going to go'