There has been some time to reflect on the debates between the Presidential candidates so now is a good time to consider why they transpired as they did and where they leave the race. I contend that only the first debate mattered – and to understand why, one must not only look at how the actual debate played out but what President Obama’s strategy was leading up to the debate.
In the months and days leading up to the debate, the Obama campaign had one strategy, and that was to attempt to completely eliminate any good will the public might have for Mitt Romney. And so we got ‘he destroys jobs’. He killed people with cancer. He hadn’t paid taxes for ten years. He was conducting a war on women. He hates black people. He hates his Hispanics. He hates Gay people. He hates 47% of the people. This sort of campaigning was very effective – no one was talking about Obama’s actual performance as President and a significant number of people were convinced Romney was the Mormon anti-Christ or possibly even Shiva, destroyer of Worlds.
The Obama team adopted this strategy in part because it had no significant positives to play. They could only repeat “Osama Bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive!” so many times before people started asking questions about the economy and the current state of the Middle East, so it was necessary to divert attention to the Horror That Is Mitt Romney. And up until the debate this strategy was very effective.
The reason it was effective was because Obama had a press that was willing to oblige him when it came to communicating a narrative. Nonetheless, while this constant barrage of negativity about Romney certainly undermined Romney’s campaign it was also undermining Obama’s preparation for the debate. This was because the debate required the President to answer a competent and capable opponent, whereas Obama had been preparing for the straw man he had made Romney out to be. He had bought his own caricature of Romney.
Of course when people tuned in to one of the most widely viewed Presidential debates in thirty years they saw quite a different Mitt Romney. Rather than being aloof and arrogant, Romney was engaged, informed and personable. He eloquently criticized the President’s policies without seeming to attack the President, and he was clear if not precise with his own plans for dealing with the economy. Obama on the other hand seemed irritated, unclear, disengaged and reactionary. He was clearly caught off-guard. By all accounts, Romney dominated the debate.
But what is interesting is that Romney didn’t need to dominate the debate – he just needed to show up and not be the demonic figure the Obama campaign had made him out to be. By attempting to turn Mitt Romney into a right-wing cartoon character, Obama inadvertently set him up to easily win the debate. In common parlance this is called overplaying your hand. By not being that guy, and by performing well, Romney was able to go above and beyond expectations and this has since shifted the momentum in his favor.
Interestingly, this is one of the great failings of the secular left. For atheists, Christians aren’t just wrong – they are dumb, dangerous and delusional. To the Occupy Movement business owners don’t just have their own interests, they want to rape the planet and exploit the poor. To radical feminists social conservatives aren’t simply interested in protecting the unborn or preserving the family – they are conducting a ‘war on women’. This is why anytime conservatives are given a fair hearing before an objective audience they come across as eminently reasonable and convincing, because they are never the evil caricature the left makes them out to be. It’s also the reason the left frequently tries to shut down conservative speakers in public settings and in the media, because they can’t control the message. Secular leftism is an empty philosophy which only exists in a subsidized vacuum like a university or newspaper; it never produces useful policies or consistent worldviews that a person of reason or experience would adopt. So it relies on the denigration of its opponents, not pointing to its own successes.
This of course doesn’t amount to a guarantee that Romney will win – many factors may come into play there. But if Obama loses this election, this will be the reason why.