With a few hours to go before the second debate between Romney and Obama, this is a good time to take a last-minute gut check as to what might actually be the outcome.
My gut tells me that to score an outright “win”–the President not only needs to have a breakout performance, but also must throw Romney off his chocolate-milk high. What do I mean by this?
Part of the problem in these debates for Obama is that Romney has managed to get himself into a state of mind that insulates him from anything Obama throws at him. To put it another way: Romney had fun in the first debate. To really land punches and emerge the clear winner, Obama needs to snap Romney out of his debate fun zone and force him into that place where he feels ill at ease. That is not going to be easy to do.
The good news is: we have seen Romney upset before.
When Rick Perry entered the GOP race, he really got under Romney’s skin and threw him off his game. Who can ever forget Romney’s infamous “I’ll bet you $10,000” comment. But do we remember why it happened?
It happened because Perry kept quoting Romney’s book to Romney as a strategy for tripping him up in his own changing positions. And Rick Perry did this in a way that was so persistent and so annoying that Romney just could not resist trying to shut him down.
And therein we come upon the frayed nerves that lie not too deep beneath Romney’s chameleon-like skin.
Romney’s sense of fun in the debates (as I have called it), seems to come from the fact that he feels so prepared and so on top of the details that he is the smartest person on the stage. Despite being a completely brainless moron, Rick Perry was able to fluster Romney through sheer will and repetition.
“I know Mitt Romney better than Mitt Romney” seems to be a debate tactic that Mitt Romney absolutely hates–it puts him in a bad mood, throws him out of his fun zone.
To pull off that kind of maneuver, Obama would have to step into a personality somewhat unfamiliar. He will have to be passive aggressive, persistent, and repetitious–all the qualities Obama supporters are generally glad he does not display.
Ah, but the great thing about Kabuki theater is that we can wear masks that we might not otherwise wear to the office.
Obama can do this–he has the ability and the foresight to throw Romney off his game. The question isn’t “can he do it,” but “will he do it?”
I predict he will (what the heck), but I say that with about 50% confidence. The “X” factor in tonight’s debate could very well be how completely insulated Mitt Romney manages to stay from reality for the duration of 90 minutes and, by contrast, how deeply connected to and passionate about reality Obama manages to stay.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about the outcome.