Sitting on a Lead

Mitt Romney betters Barack Obama in the first Presidential debate

Sports metaphors are overdone in politics, but the first Presidential debate was like watching a team trying to sit on a lead and thus allowing the opposition to take risks and score points.    Governor Romney pulled no punches and went out hungry to win.   Obama played prevent, didn’t go on the attack with the themes from his campaign, and tried to simply make sure he didn’t do anything stupid.

If you’re a football fan, you know that sitting on a lead is dangerous.  It takes you off your game and risks giving the other side the momentum.   By the time you realize you’re in danger the dynamic that gave you the lead is gone.    When he’s at his best President Obama is crisp and direct.   He displayed that in his debates with Senator McCain in 2008.   In the first 2012 Presidential debate he seemed to be going through the motions, giving well rehearsed lines, ever so careful not to veer off course.

John Madden once quipped that “the only thing the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.”

One got the sense Romney wanted to be there for a debate, and Obama wanted to run down the clock.   The result: a consensus that Romney won the debate and thus his candidacy is not in the dire straights it would have been had Obama crushed him.

Will this turn the race around?   I suspect polls will give Romney a bounce and within a week we’ll be describing the race again as neck and neck, perhaps with an ever so slight lead for Obama.   If that doesn’t happen – if Obama stays up in the polls by 3 to 5% with decent leads in battleground states, that would be bad news for Romney.    If it does happen, and I suspect it will, this is the best possible result for Governor Romney.

Simply, it puts him back in the game.   However, he won the debate on style, not substance.   Obama was so careful he came off as listless.  He didn’t make any errors, but didn’t take any chances.    He preferred statistics to zingers.   He stressed points of agreement with Governor Romney as much as he stressed differences.    Romney did best when he talked in broad terms about the role of government, Obama did best in pointing out that Romney’s vague and unable to say exactly what he’ll do.

There was little real acrimony in the debate, one could imagine the two going out for a beer afterwards

I still believe that to really turn this around Romney needs to do more than be energetic and articulate in a debate.   He has to convince people he has a plan, and lay out details that show it’ll be more than the same Republican policies of the past.   He’s not yet done that, so he has not turned this race around.   The smart money is still on Obama.

To go back to the sports metaphor:  Obama led 24-10 a few minutes into the 4th quarter.   They decided to run the ball and an aggressive Romney defense stopped them twice.   After the first stop they scored a field goal, after the second they went for a touchdown.   Now it’s 24-20 going into the second half of the fourth quarter.    Team Obama knows that if they don’t do something they’ll create an opening for a last minute comeback victory for Team Romney.

What Obama needs to do:

1.   Come out more aggressively in the second debate and prove he wants it.   Leave wonky Obama at home and go for the argument of principles and the human cost of policies.

2.   Shift advertising away from the 47% tape (that’s run its course) and move towards making Romney’s vagueness in the debates an issue.   Advertising about Romney’s failure to be specific about his plans will highlight Obama’s strong points and create a sense that the debates were not an unambiguous success for Romney.

Ultimately, the best news in this for Obama is that none of his supporters can think they’ve got this in the bag — Romney’s still got a chance.

I like this

What Romney needs to do:

1.  Make a specific argument about what he’ll do in the future.   I suspect many in his camp still think that unnecessary – after all, he won a debate  by being vague, and debates are judged on style, not substance.   But winning debates doesn’t win the election.   He has to still convince voters he has a vision and a plan for the future.   Romney needs to show why you should vote for him, not just against Obama.

2.  Shift advertising to the 47%!   That sounds crazy, but bear with me.   The 47% tape has done all the damage it can do.  But can the damage be undone?   Sure – by turning a problem into a benefit.   Romney should use this as an excuse to emphasize how much concern he has for all Americans and to repudiate the ideas he seemed to show with that tape.

3.   The $5 trillion dollar ad.   Romney should also emphasize the debate and Obama’s claim Romney wants $5 trillion in tax cuts by juxtaposing Obama’s claim with Romney’s denial that he wants such massive tax cuts.   He can use that to make a strong case that the claims Obama makes about what Romney wants to do are not what Romney really wants to do.   That will cause people to doubt all the negative ads from the Obama campaign, undercuting their influence.

Bottom line: we have a real contest here.   As an Obama supporter I’d prefer it to be otherwise.  But as someone who enjoys watching an exciting political battle I know the next 34 days will be fun!

  1. #1 by SShiell on October 4, 2012 - 05:25

    Pass the popcorn.


  2. #2 by Lee on October 4, 2012 - 10:32

    I just emailed my mom in Maine that I could not wait to read your eval of the debate! I thought Obama did not seem crisp and on point too and almost veered to rambling once or twice. I don’t think he was exactly, the issues are so complex that the time frames allowed do not really permit giving as much info as he wanted. But image seems to be everything these days and Romney came off as calm, collected and ready to tackle the job. Since I lived under the Mass. Romney governorship, it makes me cringe.

    • #3 by classicliberal2 on October 4, 2012 - 13:29

      Got to go with you on this one: Obama was outright horrible last night. Right out of the gate, he was stuttering and looking as if he didn’t even want to be there. He brought no narrative to it. He lays down, right from the beginning, nad allows Romney to roll right over him, and never seriously fights back, even when it would have been comically easy to do so. Practically everything Romney said was either a direct lie or so misleading as to be a lie, and Obama just just absorbs the punishment over and over. It was AWFUL. More importantly, it was INCREDIBLY stupid, because after the last few months, he could have taken out Romney last night–basically finished the campaign.

      The debate format last night sucked, and Jim Lehrer sucked, as well–he lost control of things right from the beginning, and never reasserted it–but the one who sucked most of all was the Obama. What a joke.

  3. #4 by GiRRL_Earth on October 4, 2012 - 11:52

    @Lee: I too lived “under the Mass. Romney governorship” and “it makes me cringe” as well. I fear for our country if Romney lands in the oval office, I really do. As a woman, I do not want him as my president, I just don’t. And as I said on my blog, Romney is about as sensitive to the needs of women as Jack the Ripper!

  4. #5 by Scott Erb on October 4, 2012 - 11:59

    There is a war brewing between Turkey and Syria, while riots are growing in Iran. I wonder if Obama was off because he’d spent the day in the real duties of President – dealing with potential foreign unrest?

    • #6 by SShiell on October 6, 2012 - 13:58

      Yeah, the job of President must be surely weighing heavily on the man. Issues you mention:

      Potential war between Turkey & Syria. What’s he doing about it? Oh well, it all must be behind the scenes, I guess. . . .

      And anyway, there is a campaign to run, speeches to give and fundraisers to attend.

      Riots in Iran? What’s he doing about it? Oh well, it all must be another one where he is working behind the scenes, I guess. . . .

      And anyway, there is a campaign to run, speeches to give and fundraisers to attend.

      What about this episode in Benghazi? It must be hard to reconcile – Terrorist attack or spontaneous protest. Spontaneous protest or terrorist attack. What to do, what to do. Send the FBI out to investigate. Yeah that’ll work. But they won’t even get there for several weeks. Spontaneous protest or terrorist attack. Terrorist attack or spontaneous protest. What to do, what to do. Send Susan Rice out to tell the American people the truth in the matter. Whoops, that didn’t work. Spontaneous protest or terrorist attack. Terrorist attack or spontaneous protest. What to do, what to do. . . .

      And anyway, there is a campaign to run, speeches to give and fundraisers to attend.

      And what of all of the other issues he must have to deal with:

      Meetings with Foreign dignataries? No, he was too busy to do that recently when many were at the UN. Or, he ddn’t want to meet with one and not all. Or something like that, I guess. . .

      And anyway, there is a campaign to run, speeches to give and fundraisers to attend.

      How about dealing with employment issues. Yeah, he has stated on numerous occasion he was focusing lazer like on that issue! Why, he could have been busy with his vaunted Jobs Council! No, wait . . they last met on January 17. Maybe there was some follow-up to that . . . or something . . .

      And anyway, there is a campaign to run, speeches to give and fundraisers to attend.

      No, he could be on the phones, calling Congressional leaders, working them like Presidents past, pushing bills forward. No, he doesn’t like doing that . . and recently he even lost Boehner’s phone number . . Anyway they are all on recess . . . But he could be calling them at home . . . or something . . .

      And anyway, there is a campaign to run, speeches to give and fundraisers to attend.

      Yeah, it must have been because he’d spent the day in the real duties of President out there in the secluded sanctum of Las Vegas.

    • #7 by Scott Erb on October 6, 2012 - 14:04

      It’s funny that you sound like a Democrat criticizing Bush in 2004! Presidents have to campaign and the opponents accuse the President of neglecting his real duties (in 2004 it was all the stuff in Iraq and Afghanistan – a list at least as long as yours) with Republicans saying that the Democrats didn’t understand how Bush always has staff and communications with him and can be President while campaigning. Now the roles are reversed. Ah, politics! I do suspect that Obama had about a tenth of the debate prep that Romney had, since Romney has no day job other than campaigning.

      • #8 by SShiell on October 6, 2012 - 15:02

        Yeah, sure . . .

  5. #9 by thenewamericanlondoner on October 4, 2012 - 12:19

    Was Romney that bad as governor? As I said in my comments a couple posts ago, my brother is currently working on a farm in Mass and enjoying universal Romneycare. He’s very hesitant to come back to Pennsylvania. What are the chances, if Romney does win, that he might continue such an enlightened policy as nationalized medicine? Will it be like here in the UK, where we pay about $10 per perscription IF we earn a decent wage/salary?

    • #10 by Snoring Dog Studio on October 4, 2012 - 12:32

      The chances are zilch, Americanlondoner. He thinks that each state can come up with their own plan for healthcare, which is utter foolish nonsense. What horrific chaos that would be for this country. Besides, how could you trust what Romney would do? He’s criticized and vowed to repeal Obamacare at the same time he pats himself on the back for what he did in Mass. Such duplicity.

  6. #11 by Snoring Dog Studio on October 4, 2012 - 12:29

    Scott, you’re right – Obama is, after all, dealing with many other serious issues, so why the hell wouldn’t he seem tired and reserved? What do people expect, GEEZ! So he didn’t drink the five cans of Red Bull that Romney clearly did. I hate that people think Romney was a “winner” in the debate because he was more aggressive. That is so childish. But was there any substance to what he said? Doesn’t that matter at all? And how can people be comfortable after watching him flip flop throughout the debate, lie, repeat the same vague nonsense, and offer no details? That’s winning? The debates offer no forum to get into the back story of what goes on in governing this country. But it doesn’t matter to far too many voters. They just want to watch a fist fight. Sad. I watched the debate, but won’t watch any others. That’s not where a responsible voter is going to get their information.

  7. #12 by Scott Erb on October 4, 2012 - 13:53

    It’s clear Romney won the debate, at least in political terms. CNN’s banner is “Romney wins big” others say things like “We now have a horse race.” The debate changed the narrative of the election which is precisely what Romney needed to do. Yes, he was vague, yes he flip flopped on positions, telling Obama “I don’t believe that” when it has been part of his plan. Yes the fact checkers are skewering Romney. But that’s background noise. Romney knows that truth is irrelevant in this kind of setting — he seems to have taken the jello out of the box.

  8. #13 by Sherry on October 4, 2012 - 14:21

    Nothing can take away Obama’s utter lousy debate. But I will say that Jim Lehrer was abysmal. After introducing the two, he might as well have left the stage. He asked no really pointed questons, and allowed Romney to run over him and control the debate. Romney demanded and got the right to have the last word on everything and also controlled when they changed subjects. It was embarrassing to watch Lehrer simple wimp out and give up. But of course Obama never stepped into the breach and fought for control either.

  9. #14 by Titfortat on October 4, 2012 - 14:30

    Romney to run over him and control the debate.(sherry)

    Im not so sure Romney controlled that much. Afterall, if he did, why did he have more than 5mins less speaking time than Obama?

  10. #15 by SShiell on October 4, 2012 - 17:30

    Seems Al Gore knows the secret of Obama’s poor performance last night, the altitude:

    As you did in your piece, I will use use a sport’s analogy:

    Back when the Mets were hopeless and Casey Stengel was their first coach, they did an exhibition game in Mexico City. A sportswriter asked him if the altitude would bother his players. Casey replied “Nah. My boys can lose in any altitude.”

  11. #17 by brucetheeconomist on October 8, 2012 - 01:10

    The subject of the next debate (foreign affairs) may help Obama.

    I think the first debate seems to have shifted the line of attack on the President from he’s too radical to he’s incompetent, or at least not up to this job. Obama’s lack of any ‘executive’ job prior to the White House feeds into that.

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