Mitt Romney studying up on debate ‘zingers’

Mitt Romney facing off with former rivals Rick Santorum and Ron Paul during a 2011 Republican debate in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Mitt Romney facing off with former rivals Rick Santorum and Ron Paul during a 2011 Republican debate in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Toni Sandys/AP Photo

Mitt Romney has done a lot of damage to himself over the last month. He didn’t receive a convention bump — he can partially blame Clint Eastwood’s improv sketch for that. The former Massachusetts governor came under fire for criticizing the president’s response to Libya. Then came the infamous “47 percent video” in which he insulted nearly half the country. This Wednesday marks the first presidential debate, and Romney has to do well if he wants to save his candidacy.

Team Romney has reportedly been practicing a handful of “zingers” to throw at President Obama during the debates. A zinger, or “burn,” is a quick, witty retort used by both insult comics and presidential candidates alike to knock their opponent off balance. The idea is to make Obama look smug without making Romney look bad himself.

Over the last few weeks both the president’s surrogates and Romney’s (with the exception of Chris Christie) have downplayed each candidates’ debate skills. With a new Washington Post/ABC News poll showing the majority of the country feels President Obama will win the first debate, prompting the president’s re-election team to manage expectations. Even Obama himself said at a campaign rally over the weekend that Romney was “a good debater” and that he was only “just okay.” Over at the GOP nominee’s campaign office, it seems they’re following the same playbook. Paul Ryan went on Fox News Sunday this weekend and basically said the same exact thing about Romney. Ryan said, “President Obama is a very gifted speaker…he’s an experienced debater. This is Mitt’s first time.” 

Paul Ryan may be attempting to lower expectations, but who is he kidding? This isn’t Romney’s first time. Yes, this will be the first time Romney has been on stage one-on-one with Obama, but this isn’t his first debate, he knows the score. During the GOP primary, Romney participated in 20 debates, some of which he did well, and others…not so much. 

Romney’s problem lies in his inability to humanize himself.  Every time he makes a joke, or veers off message to attack his opponent he ends up in a political ditch. Want proof? During one of his exchanges with Rick Perry, the former-Massachusetts Governor offered to make a $10,000 bet to prove the Texas governor wrong. In another debate, Romney tried to crack a joke with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer which received silence from the audience. In yet another debate, Romney got flustered and started shouting at Rick Perry to “let me talk.”

The Romney campaign is most likely taking every precaution to make sure situations like these don’t happen Wednesday night. However, practicing zingers, burns or one-liners alone probably aren’t going to beat Obama, who remained pretty calm during the 2008 debates, but it’s a lot better than what Donald Trump wants him to do.

Debates and Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney studying up on debate 'zingers'