October 3 is the first debate. The moderator is Jim Lehrer of PBS, and the subject matter is domestic policy. It will last 90 minutes. The format will allow time for substantive answers.
If present polls hold between now and October 3, President Obama will be going into the debate with a 79% likelihood of winning. If the President can win the debate, he'll get a significant bump in fundraising, and he'll be able to bank votes in early voting states like Iowa, which starts voting September 27, and Ohio, which starts October 2.
If Romney wins the debate decisively, his campaign will come off life support and, possibly, back into toss-up territory. Mitt could end up with something he doesn't have right now: a legitimate chance to win.
If the moderator does his job and disallows diversions into foreign policy, I would guess that Romney's line of attack will be all about "leadership" in all its permutations and combinations. Romney and Ryan both love that word … mostly because it doesn't say anything or commit the speaker to any particular course of action.
As the underdog, Mitt has to attack. That's fine. I think the President performs best as a counter-puncher … attacking from a defensive position.
Let's explore some of Mitt's vulnerabilities as he tries to attack the President for failing to lead effectively. Let's examine how Mitt has performed as a leader.
Mitt the Businessman
I'm sure when Mitt started this campaign, he thought he could talk generally about "leadership" and expect everybody to swoon. After all, he made money in business, he had a shoe-shine and a smile, he must be a leader.
Obama's early advertising succeeded in taking the bloom off the Romney "business leader" credential. It developed the theme that Mitt was more of an opportunist than somebody who actually added value. His expertise was clever use of other people's money and the bankruptcy laws to score big for himself while introducing the employees of acquired businesses into the ranks of the unemployed … future 47% types, as it were.
Mitt the Political Leader
One would be hard-pressed to conclude that Mitt has burnished his leadership credentials by how he ran his convention or his campaign.
In the primaries, his calling card was to appear above the fray at debates and carpetbomb with negative ads anyone who moved up in the polls to challenge him. That was enough to clinch his nomination. For him, so far so good.
Since clinching the nomination, his first major decision was to name Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate. So far, Mr. Ryan has distinguished himself by the haste with which he deserted his old buddy in the "forcible rape" cause, Rep. Todd Akin. He's also shown a rather bizarre inclination to regale us with descriptions of his body (6% body fat) and its accomplishments (a bogus marathon time, in which he claimed to finish in the top 5% of the field when news reports showed he finished in the bottom third).
Mitt's management of his own convention and campaign have pretty much blown what's left of the "Mitt the leader" argument out of the water.
At the convention, Romney used valuable prime time … the 10-11 pm slot, which the networks cover … for Clint Eastwood to mutter imaginary obscenities to an empty chair while the candidate (that's you, Mitt) giggled in the wings and Cardinal Timothy Dolan waited to give his closing blessing. Is it just me, or is there something weird about that picture?
Most speakers at the convention treated Mitt as a bit of an afterthought. The keynoter, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, spent so much time puffing himself up that Mitt barely got a mention. Mitt, himself, gave an entirely forgettable speech except for the fact that he failed to mention the troops in Afghanistan. When that became a serious controversy, Mitt's excuse was that he had mentioned them in a speech just before the convention. I'm sure that made them feel better.
Post-convention, the campaign has showed glaring leadership failings. Mitt still can't get his story straight on abortion. In a national TV interview with Scott Pelley of CBS, Mitt said he, "supported abortion in cases of rape, incest, and to protect the health and life of the mother."
Health of the mother? That's way off the reservation with the far right. Romney's staff scurried to contact right-wing activists and take, "health of the mother" out while continuing to maintain to the press that Mitt did not, "misspeak." Huh?
If the moderator does not do it, the President should force Mitt to answer the following direct questions.
- Do you support a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy if a doctor certifies that it is necessary to protect her health?
- If not, how close to death must a woman come before you would recognize her right to terminate her pregnancy?
The weird thing about Mitt is that he can probably answer those questions and keep a sappy smile on his face at the same time.
Finally, what does the infamous Mitt fundraising tape say about Mitt as a leader? The tape runs over 35 minutes, roughly the same time as his convention speech. There is, however, a big difference between the two.
Mitt's convention speech was typical phony Romney speaking inane platitudes. On the tape, speaking before people who have just spent $50,000 for a meal, Mitt was fluid and in his element. For the first time, one got the feeling that Mitt was speaking from the heart (?) and having a great time doing so.
Watch the debate and get involved. If Obama can bury The Mittster in the first debate, some of the really ugly money on the far right might start to dry up. If not, the ugly money combined with the shrink-the-vote activities in the various states could result in the unthinkable.
Mitt Romney as our leader.
Comments are welcome at tomc[at]wednesdayswars[dot]com. Name and town if you wish to opine. Comments will be addressed in subsequent posts.