The New York Times tells us about two presidential candidates' debate prep -- and this has me worried a little bit:
Mr. Romney's team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August.I'm sure Fox and Drudge and the New York Post already have the list of zingers, and already have a plan, coordinated with the Romney campaign, to declare one of them the line of the evening, the one that embodied Romney's decisive victory, with the backup choices rank-ordered in case Romney never manages to deliver Choice #1, or in case it falls flat.
That doesn't worry me too much, because the right lives in its own reality; I'm a bit more worried about the mainstream press -- if Romney competently delivers a zinger or two, Chuck Todd will no doubt replicate the restaurant scene from When Harry Met Sally, and he won't be faking. People like him will declare Romney the victor as a result.
On the other hand, Romney's well-rehearsed zingers will probably seem well-rehearsed -- in fact, overly rehearsed. And the people tasked with crafting the zingers are probably the same geniuses who gave us all those unappealing speeches at the Republican convention. The zingers will probably be written to appeal primarily to the GOP base, like everything else in this campaign. So maybe there's no reason to worry.
I'm also concerned that the Romney people have figured out one of their candidate's biggest weaknesses:
... Mitt Romney's team has been working to make sure he avoids coming off as a scold. His sparring partner, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, channeling Mr. Obama, has gone after him repeatedly, to the point of being nasty. The goal is to get Mr. Romney agitated and then teach him how to keep his composure, look presidential.But that could just mean that instead of displaying his usual angry, aggrieved, put-upon self, Romney will come off as a guy clearly struggling to conceal how angry, aggrieved, and put-upon he is. I don't think he can bury those traits completely.
And he seems to be preparing for an Obama who's not likely to show up:
Mr. Romney's aides recall Mr. Obama's tart "you're likable enough" line to Mrs. Clinton in 2008 and hope to goad him into a similarly churlish moment. Mr. Romney will win, the advisers said, if he can force Mr. Obama to come across as condescending or smug.It's unimaginable to me that Obama would make it personal in that way. He'll probably say very nice things about Romney and his family as people. He's extremely unlikely to launch personal attacks on Romney for his wealth. For one thing, he doesn't have to -- we all know Romney's biography. For another, it's just not Obama's style.
To prepare Mr. Romney, Mr. Portman has played Mr. Obama combatively, attacking Mr. Romney as a rich man who does not care about average Americans. Evidently, he has gotten under the candidate's skin. "We get the chance to debate one another, and after the hour and a half or so is over, I want to kick him out of the room," Mr. Romney said recently.
"You're likable enough" was a bad moment, though it was a rare bad moment. It was directed against someone a candidate in whom a lot of voters had an emotional investment. (Even a lot of '08 Obama supporters had good feelings about Hillary, and would have cheered on her barrier-breaking if we weren't cheering on Obama's.) Romney's likely to poll in the high 40s, but no one is rooting for him as a person the way a lot of people rooted for Hillary Clinton, and still root for her.
I supported Obama in '08, but I understand why some people saw that moment as the Big Man on Campus condescending to the girl in school who'd never be asked to sit at his cafeteria table. But Romney, even as the challenger to Obama, seems like the overdog in every way: white, richer, older, even more physically substantial. Apart from, say, Wall Streeters, who's going to empathize with him if Obama does attack him personally? It would be like empathizing with Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life.
So maybe there's nothing to worry about.