The post-debate evaluation for President Obama has been understandably less than stellar. Very few people are going to pronounce you the “winner” of a debate after you spent the bulk of your performance looking like you just donated a one too many pints of blood in the green room fifteen minutes before walking on stage. Moreover, when President Obama wasn’t asleep on stage or pretending to take notes, he gave answers that sounded like footnotes from an out of date textbook on depression era economic metrics.
That much being said about how much the President failed to impress, one cannot simply turnaround and say that Mitt Romney “won” the debate.
To be more precise: if Mitt Romney won, that would mean the election has somehow boiled down to whether or not the GOP ticket manages to make inroads with the voters looking to pull the lever for an over-caffeinated, hostile, smug congenital liar. It would truly be a great night for Mitt Romney if that’s where the election was as of October 4.
Luckily, here on planet Earth, that is not the case.
As it happens, Romney’s “winning” debate performance was pitch perfect not for the votes he actually needs, but for a demographic that has already been locked up long ago.
In fact, what the Romney team knows–and the GOP has been working overtime to avoid discussing–is that most of the voters their ticket needs at this stage were likely turned off by Romney’s epic display of bullying, blathering, and lying.
Romney got is mojo back, but that mojo makes voters he needs to reach feel disgust, not excitement.
To put it bluntly: lack of aggression is not Romney’s problem. Lack of telling lies is not Romney’s problem. Romney’s problem is an inability to convince the remaining undecided voters that he can empathize with their situation.
What I have been hearing all day from pundits is that Romney did show empathy when he told stories about voters asking him for “help” on the campaign trail.
Really? The guy gets caught on tape saying that half the country is a bunch of lazy, worthless losers hanging on the teat of big government–that tape sends him plummeting in every poll–and a few clichés about meeting people on the trail suddenly transforms him into Mother Theresa? Please.
Mitt Romney did not convince anyone that he has the capacity for empathy. Instead, he showed the American public, yet again, that Mitt Romney is where empathy goes to die.
Will the polls show a post-debate jump for Romney? Inevitably, they will. At this stage in the process, there are so many polls in play that they can capture just about any dynamic and somehow translate it into movement. That is not to say that the polls are biased, as the right-wing had been prattling on about prior to the debates. It’s just that not all polls will show information that actually matters.
President Obama would be wise to rethink his strategy of just getting through the debates now that he’s managed to serve up such a giant plate of cold oatmeal for his first showing. He needs to remember that debates are not elective graduate seminars in government policy, but are opportunities to fire up the base that needs to see their man kicking some soft, white Republican tuchus to stay motivated.
But if the Romney team thinks they are now “winning” because they managed to squeeze 90 minutes of televised obnoxiousness out of their candidate, then they are truly lost.
The clock is running out on Mitt Romney’s opportunity to demonstrate that he is a man who can empathize with the American voter–that the pain and worry of Middle Class families in need is something other than fodder for an evening of “fun” walking all over Jim Lehrer.
Win or lose the debates, Romney seems incapable of the task at hand.