DEBATES CAN SHIFT A RACE’S OUTCOME, BUT IT’S NOT EASY
NEW YORK TIMES
History shows that candidates have different ways to score through presidential debates: the forceful put-down, the surprising show of skill, the opponent’s fumble, superior post-debate tactics. But it also shows that to fundamentally alter the direction of a campaign, a candidate usually has to accomplish all of those things. That underscores the challenge that Mitt Romney faces against President Obama as they approach the first presidential debate of 2012, the 27th of the television era featuring the major party nominees.
TREMBLING BEFORE MITT
NEW YORK TIMES
…For the last week, we’ve been told that the thought of sharing a stage with that fearsome oratorical beast otherwise known as Mitt Romney has [Obama] trembling in his leather oxfords. If he hops away with even three of his four limbs, it’ll be a miracle. … The Obama camp’s assertions of Romney’s advantage rest on two inarguable realities. One, Romney has indeed been better on the debate stage than on the stump, in many interviews or at the London Olympics. … Two, Romney has had more practice than Obama…But the Obama camp conveniently overlooks whom Romney got all that practice against, an all-star lineup that included Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and of course Rick Perry.
OBAMA AGAINST THE ODDS
Unfortunately for Mitt Romney, presidential politics is, like football, a game with a clock, one with just five weeks of ticks remaining. In football, a team behind by lots of points late in the game must take gambles. Romney is behind — in the important swing states, with the national electorate regarding who would best handle the economy and health care, and in national measures of favorable voter perceptions. So on Wednesday night it might be risky for Romney not to take risks. But what can he do? He might add to his menu of policies by embracing, say, the idea of breaking up the largest banks, a sound policy that would subvert the caricature of him as rapacious capitalism embodied. But debates are not good venues for explaining , well, anything, actually, but especially not new initiatives. And October is a time for summations to the jury, not new submissions of evidence.
ROMNEY ON DEFENSE
…Entering the first presidential debate, it is Mitt Romney who is on the defensive. … First, he must find a way to convince an economically struggling middle-age female voter in Akron, Ohio, that he is concerned in practical ways about her future. Second, and relatedly, he must outline a philosophy of government that isn’t libertarian and frightening. Attacks on redistribution and a theoretical defense of economic freedom will not suffice. The problem is: Both these goals are defensive and should have been accomplished months ago. Romney can still make his case — finally unfiltered by the media — but he has complicated his own task.
BENGHAZI WAS OBAMA’S 3 A.M. CALL
WALL STREET JOURNAL
The U.S. ignores warnings of a parlous security situation in Benghazi. Nothing happens because nobody is really paying attention, especially in an election year, and because Libya is supposed to be a foreign-policy success. When something does happen, the administration’s concerns for the safety of Americans are subordinated to considerations of Libyan “sovereignty” and the need for “permission.” After the attack the administration blames a video, perhaps because it would be politically inconvenient to note that al Qaeda is far from defeated, and that we are no more popular under Mr. Obama than we were under George W. Bush. Denouncing the video also appeals to the administration’s reflexive habits of blaming America first. Once that story falls apart, it’s time to blame the intel munchkins and move on. It was five in the afternoon when Mr. Obama took his 3 a.m. call. He still flubbed it.