Debate! Where The Gaffes Are Made Up & The Points Don’t Matter
The media (and many politicos) are in their quadrennial “the debates matter” mode, especially since the press is almost getting tired of these “Obama is kicking Romney’s butt” stories and would really like to write a “Romney campaign has momentum” story or three thousand. I don’t think it’s bias, its just that a lack of drama is the antithesis of the storyline the media wants.
I mean, sure, Obama could simply collapse under the weight of Mitt Romney’s rapier wit, collapsing at the cleverness of one of his pre-loaded comedic quips… but it’s unlikely. On the flip side, the Obama devotees who think Romney is going to self-destruct under one of Barry’s Patented Truth Bombs are also fooling themselves.
Both candidates know what they’re doing here, and while I personally think Obama has a slight edge on Romney in this type of matchup, the differences on debate skill aren’t as stark as the overall picture where Obama dominates.
Also, and this is key, gaffes in a debate don’t always help the challenger. This may sound a little counterintuitive since I’ve been arguing for months now that gaffes in service of an existing point of view do matter — the political science crowd is seeing their cold and dispassionate view of this exploded by Romney’s 47% tape. But we already forget that Bush screwed up in a few memorable ways during his debates with Kerry.
I would argue that Kerry won two out of the three debates with Bush. It didn’t help. John Kerry is a better debater than Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, and he was competing against a President who couldn’t master basic English, let alone a debate.
It didn’t matter in the long run. Kerry had already been defined and discounted by America, and even besting the President in a debate was not enough to convince people to see him as commander-in-chief.
For Mitt Romney, all hope is not yet lost. But he has been defined. He has been put in a rhetorical box by America largely thanks to his own mouth, but also by a focused campaign from the Obama team. Once you are in that box, it is hard as hell to escape from it. People like Sarah Palin, Al Gore, and John Kerry have all been in it and with the exception of maybe Gore, have never escaped.
I doubt that even the most brilliant debate performance from a man who can’t seem to articulate the basics of why he’s running for president will change that dynamic.