Presidential Debate III: Winners and Wieners
posted at 7:05 am on October 23, 2012 by Dafydd ab Hugh
Everyone (even Democrats) roundly agrees that Mitt Romney trounced President Barack “Small ball” Obama in the debate — the first debate, I mean. It’s a no-brainer, one of several events that upended this presidential campaign. After the first debate, Mitt Romney gained in stature, in fundraising, and very strongly in the polls; he reversed the trend of a rising Obama virtually overnight and moved back to parity.
In the second presidential debate, most of the snap polls showed Obama had won; but the two focus groups whose results I saw, the Luntz group on Fox News and the MSNBC focus group, unambiguously showed Romney as the winner. As I wrote earlier, those whose business is necessarily adversarial — meaning the Progressivist, activist press, political pundits, and even a smattering of conservative lawyers — saw the second debate through very different eyes from the rest of the country:
Maybe attorneys tend to view a debate as they would a legal argument in court, scoring on specific points and authorities, on argument and who “wins” it, on who can best use objections to keep his opponent’s evidence out of the record, and on who does the best job of submitting juror instructions that the judge accepts.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are looking for something very different: We want to see a candidate who can supply genuineness, sincerity, empathy, reassurance, a hopeful vision of the future, and a leaderly demeanor. We don’t want glibness, aggression, or menacing body language; we’re unimpressed by well-memorized talking points we’ve heard a hundred times before. We can taste defeatism and faux enthusiasm in a candidate the way you can taste overcooked barbecue even before you bite into it.
I suspect the laity look, more than anything, for nominees with a plan to get from here to there; one that is specific without drifting into the tall grass; plausible without sinking into logical lemmas and ponderous proofs; and gradual enough that we don’t have to suffer radical dislocations and the upending of everything we believe into something foreign and frightening.
Watching the polls since then tells us “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey was wont to say; post-Debate II, Romney continued to rise in the polls, both national and the determinative state polls. So punditry, jounalism, instant polling, and grumpy lawers aside, we must conclude that Romney won the second presidential debate as well; it was then two to nothing, GOP leads.
This time, however, the signs aren’t as clear as in the first debate; they’re not even as clear as in the second: Snap polls show that Barack Obama won on “points;” in the Luntz focus group on Fox News channel after the debate, a little more than half of the panel thought that Barack Obama won that portion of the debate about foreign policy, the ostensible subject.
But hold on thar, Hoss; regardless of the listed subject matter, this debate was not about foreign policy. It was about the economy. How do we know? Because that’s what the whole election is about, who can fix the economy and bring jobs back to America by getting the blasted, rent-seeking gummint out of the dadblamed way.
Foreign policy is vitally important… to about 3% of the electorate. The rest just want to be reassured that the candidates aren’t idiots (Poland isn’t dominated by the Soviet Union) or crackpates (let’s bring home all our troops stationed abroad, line them up along the southern border, and have them link arms to stop all them Messakins sneakin in!) Show the voters that much — reasonably bright, not obviously gibbering — and they’re satisfied enough to turn back to the real $16 trillion donkey in the dining room: the economy, stupid.
And guess what? The Luntz focus group also found that whenever Romney managed to drag the economy into the conversation, he won those portions of the debate, big time.
Bottom line, Paul Mirengoff was technically right that Romney was not “playing to win” the debate, but right for the wrong reason: Romney was playing to win the election instead.
That has been the core misunderstanding among both conservatives and liberals all along, though the moderate and undecided voters “got it” way back: Mitt Romney gamed these three debates brilliantly, moreso than did any other presidential candidate in the entire history of the “debate” era. He never intended to “win” any particular debate, if by win we mean rank higher on the judges’ scorecards; he always intended to win the goldurned election. You know, the real goal.
That was where Obama made his critical mistakes in the second and third debates; he was persuaded that you win an election by winning the debates on points. Well, that and spending a Zeppelin-ful of money to convince voters that Romney was a rich, bloody-handed Koch-sucker.
Obama was misinformed.
So how do you win an election? Ultimately, by capturing the hearts and minds of the electorate — for which you will surely need a number of resources, including money, campaign adverts, position pages, time spent personally campaigning, surrogates to plead your case, endorsements, and the fierce urgency of a ground game to get out the vote (GOTV).
Did I mention money? Yeah, Zeppelins-ful, on both sides, for a change. But Romney never took his eyes off the real goal: Not zinging your opponent in a nasty commercial, not a premature victory lap, and not winning debates by the crabbed rules of college debate teams… but being elected President of the United States of America.
Romney carefully painted a portrait of presidential bearing and gravitas, knowledge and wisdom, specificity and the political chops to carry it out, and the courage to point out that Emperor Obama has no clothes. Since that last clause was demonstrably true, the end result is — well, not quite inevitable; it ain’t over till the fat lady votes — but extremely likely: Mitt Romney is going to win this election.
The presidential debates were part of that portrait, but only a part. They had a goal; they fulfilled that goal, and then some.
Romney’s campaign by far out-organized the bewildered, flustered, inconstant, panicky, and now desperate Obama campaign. And that is why he’s going to prevail on November 6th… and why he deserves it.
Cross-posted on Big Lizards…