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President Obama's rope-a-dope gamble

COMMENTARYBy Yvette Miley, executive editor and VP, msnbcThe end of the first debate night in the presidential election gives me the perfect opportunity to talk


By Yvette Miley, executive editor and VP, msnbc

The end of the first debate night in the presidential election gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about one of my favorite sports: boxing.

The pre-debate buildup echoed many “fight cards” for the Duel in Denver. Many watching the debate, on the right and left, applauded former Governor Romney for being the aggressor, for taking the fight to the president. Meanwhile, the president seemed to be following the Muhammad Ali strategy from the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” fight. He didn’t come out swinging, and it didn't appear he was interested in taking advantage of opportunities to jab or counter Romney’s verbal fist-a-cuffs.

Watching the debate and following Twitter was a fascinating exercise. Those on the left were demanding the president challenge Romney more and to raise the “47%.” However, the president—criticized often for not fighting—was on the ropes, apparently by design. This was a presidential version of rope-a-dope.


Ali used the rope-a-dope strategy to allow George Foreman to endlessly throw punches in the early rounds. Ali fans were appalled. It was not what they expected from the self-proclaimed man who could “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”

Unbelievably, the president talked four minutes longer than Romney, although it seemed he didn’t land as many blows as possible.

Romney and his debate club are celebrating a victory today, but the danger for the challenger who is fresh off campaign debates is not “punching out.” The biggest threat to Romney is that President Obama has yet to come out of his rope-a-dope posture. He has yet to start really throwing punches.

Clearly the president wasn’t pursuing his base during what some might call his Dud in Denver. The president and his strategy team are behind on the score card and his loyal base seems ready to throw in the towel.

I anticipate pugilist Vice President Joe Biden will take a more aggressive approach during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican nominee for vice president. Can the president afford to leave all the punching up to the Brawler from Scranton, VP Biden?

The president might have attempted to stay above the "fray" and remain "presidential" and maintain his 'likeable' poll numbers, but did he leave the stage looking more like former President Jimmy Carter and less like a man with the courage to fight for his convictions?

In 1974, Ali eventually came off the ropes to throw punches, and when he did, George Foreman went down—hard. Romney is still standing. Ali had the best in the game in his corner, Angelo Dundee. President Obama's corner-team made a calculated strategy decision last night. They might be waiting for upcoming debates to show off their fighter’s combinations, but the danger in politics is that the president might not have a chance to get off the ropes.