Debate Thoughts

Normally I do not like presidential campaign debates very much.  I think they’re designed for talking points and very little substantive discussion of ideas.  Because of this structure we pay way more attention to the theater of the debate and the overall campaign than I think is healthy and we end up awarding a victor based on feeling, look, body language.  All of these things matter, but not nearly as much as the ideas the candidates who carry these characteristics bring to the table.

That said, I loved the debate on Wednesday.  Jim Lehrer (God rest is soul for all of the crap he is getting for letting these men discuss ideas) actually let President Obama and Governor Romney discuss, argue, debate for crying out loud.  There was a very healthy back and forth allowing each candidate to attack their opponent’s ideas and defend himself from the same.  It was fantastic.  What is unfortunate is that this “style” was terrible for President Obama.  It has always been clear the President prefers to discuss things in a prepared statement, with carefully considered wording and a teleprompter to boot, and Democratic consultants and operatives spent much of the week before the debate trying to lower expectations for the President.  And they were right:  the President looked awful.  Theories abound about why the President performed so poorly (Al Gore’s is still my favorite), and you can see some of them here.

My own theories is this:  President Obama is a speaker, and in his vaunted speeches creates straw men and ruthlessly attacks them.  Without someone to defend his opponents position, the President can get away saying anything he wants.  Enter Mitt Romney, whose command of facts and figures (e.g., $90 billion hires 2 million teachers comment) and the President’s inability to defend himself gave the Governor a considerable advantage.

Why this aggressive Romney?  I think there are two reasons.  First, Romney, by his nature, is a “wonk”, more interested in facts and figures than in high rhetoric.  By the nature of his preparation, he was going to come ready to debate.  Secondly, and maybe more importantly, Romney  and his campaign finally figured out he needed to rock President Obama to gain some momentum after his lukewarm convention performance.  Fuller thoughts on this topic can be found here courtesy of Michael Gerson.

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Romney-Ryan 2012

One of the first posts on A Slice of Polis, dated August 30, 2008, commented on the pick of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s VP running mate against the Obama-Biden ticket (Obama had selected Biden about 1 week before) and immediately stole the spotlight from the media show that was Barack Obama for President (I will ignore for now the post recommending that McCain pick Kay Bailey Hutchison by my colleague).  The pick fired up the conservative base, consolidating it behind a less than exciting candidate.  Palin has been the subject of so many left wing media jokes about foreign policy, Alaska, Momma grizzly bears, and her song Trig, that what was lost in the pick was the risk McCain took.  He pick a nobody, with zero experience (granted a bit more than then Senator Obama), as a lightning rod.

Ultimately the pick did not work, though I believe this had more to do with the economy slipping into recession than McCain, Palin, or then Senator Obama.  Obama running on hope and change coincided very nicely with the economic downturn, just as FDR’s election 76 years earlier fed off of Herbert Hoover’s atrocious economic decisions and the Fed’s incompetent handling of the beginnings of the Great Depression, propelling him to an election less about him and more about him not being the other guy.

This brings me right into Romney’s decision to select Paul Ryan as his running mate.  There will be speculation about why Romney made this selection.  I think it shows us a couple of things about Romney.  First, he is focused on the economy and the conservative vision of how the government interacts with it.  Second, he wants the economy to be the story, and a Ryan pick should steer the conversation in that direction.  Third, Romney wants the debate to be about policy this cycle, rather than popularity. “likability” (which is a dumb polling metric), and good looks.  Need-to-dos rather than want-to-dos.  Economic growth rather than government growth.  A friend of mine sent me a text this morning and said he has heard more substantive policy discussion this morning (it is 8:19am CST as I write this sentence) than we’ve heard for months, including in the Republican Presidential Primaries.  For that I rejoice.  Fourth, Romney wants this election to be about Obama’s record.  Fifth, Romney thinks he can make Obama’s record, particularly on the economy and probably to a lesser degree on his policy of government expansion, the story of the election.

Sixth, Romney thinks he can win the messaging war.  I will conclude with this point because it is why Romney chose Paul Ryan.  If Romney did not believe he could win a war of messaging (this includes, in my definition, both positive messaging about your campaign/candidate, and negative messaging about your opponent) and a war of ideas he would have picked a personality firebrand like Chris Christie or rising star like Marco Rubio (I do believe Rubio would have been an incredible pick.  His time is coming.).  I believe this is a good thing for the country and the election as a whole.  Political theater requires crazy attacks and stupid stuff to be said by nutcases in order to maintain some semblance of spotlight in between messaging cycles, but the craziness needs to be sandwiched between legitimate and productive discussion of ideas.  Romney is telling Obama he is going to have a conversation about ideas in this election.

If President Obama agrees to discuss ideas or responds with continued slandering and negative attacks remains to be seen.  Strap on your seat belts and please dress responsibly.  There will be plenty of mud thrown around until November and everyone is going to get hit.

McCain, Pick Hutchison. – Tilly

“Chatter over Hutchison as possible VP pick gets louder”

For most of this campaign season, I have been pulling for Mitt Romney. He, in my humble opinion, was the most conservative candidate in the race with the experience needed to lead this country. And I proudly went to the polls and gave him my vote. I was disappointed when he lost and naturally, after McCain won the Republican nomination, I wished for Romney to be his choice for VP. But, I have had a change of heart. Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison would be the best choice McCain can make. Not only does the choice more than satisfy the conservative base, maybe more so than Romney(because of his Mormon faith), but she also has the potential to pull a specific group of voters who always, always, always vote Democrat: women.

Hilliary Clinton rallied a large base of women voters. Many enthusiastically supported her, excited about the prospect of a woman becoming President. Now for many of these women, nothing is left but disppointment. And when “Biden” came off the lips of Obama when he announced his VP candidate, many women across this nation were left angry. Angry that their beloved Hilliary was not even considered, angry that their efforts to get a woman in the White House had fallen short. I believe if McCain picks Hutchison, it will rally some Hilliary supporters to the Republican side. They will fight not just because she is a woman, but because they are angry at their own party for refusing to give a woman a chance.

Democrats usually win the woman vote by at least 5 points. And with the country so evenly divided, swinging just a few points to the Republican side could make the difference. McCain, Obama has given you a wonderful oppurtunity to swing the woman vote. For the sake of this ever important election, please pick Senator Hutchison.