In two days, we will watch the first presidential debate between President Obama and former Governor Romney. With the polls showing Obama slowly, but steadily growing his lead, especially in the all-important swing states, many people claim this is a must win test for Romney. He needs to come out strong, be clear and concise and truly clarify his campaign message against the policies of Obama. But in reality, what we are more likely to see in the aftermath is the same thing we saw in the vice presidential debate between Biden and Palin: a completely different scoring system for each candidate.
Romney doesn’t need to make this a slam dunk; he doesn’t even need to walk away head held high, just keeping his head on will be a win for him. In interview after interview, from the moment he claimed the inevitable crown at the Republican convention, Romney has failed to keep a clear message or even a clear campaign direction. His policies have changed time and again; changes which only serve to strengthen his critics’ clarion call naming him the “Etch-a-Sketch” candidate.
Knowing all that, if Romney walks away from this seemingly unscathed, then it will be hailed by the right wing and Fox News as a complete victory, possibly even a crushing blow to the president.
Then you have the other side of the dais, Obama and the weight of being the incumbent with current predictions of being the victor. For him, some will look at this as the nail in the coffin of the Romney campaign. They will want him to put him away with fact-based retorts and to call him on the numerous false allegations thrown out since day one of Romney’s campaign, but I wouldn’t look for that to happen. Obama will likely play it cool, stick to his message and basically repeat what he’s said in interviews and videos over and over through the last few months of the campaign.
Why not step it up? Because Obama will not want to be seen as someone who kicks his opponent when he’s down. Playing Romney for a fool would be a dangerous mistake, because a humiliated Republican party is much more dangerous than one slightly losing in the polls. Also, going in all guns blazing would only serve to shore up the Republican illusion of Obama as a snobby, over-confident elitist. While that idea is patently hilarious when measured against Romney; someone who nearly embodies every one of those traits, it would still serve the president and his team well to avoid adding fuel to that fire.
Yet, if Romney walks off that stage with a grin on his face and not a drip of sweat to be seen, those same voices from the right will clamor that Obama lost, looked weak, failed to capitalize, etc…
The bars for success in these political contests are set in two very different places and require two completely different game plans. Which one will achieve their goal? We’ll find out Thursday morning.