Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Romney Must Do to Win Tonight's Debate (and the election!)

 In perhaps one of the most critical campaigns in modern Presidential politics, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama go head to head in a townhall style meeting at Hofstra University where they will answer undecided voters' direct questions.

The President intends to use the 90 minute "debate" as an opportunity to aggressively attack Romney and reassure nervous supporters and members of the general electorate that he is not near so "professorial" and out of touch as he appeared in his last debate, a flat performance largely credited with reviving the up-till-then moribound campaign of challenger Mitt Romney.

 For his part, the goal of former Governor of Massachusetts and "turnaround king" of private equity firm Bain Capital and the 2000 Winter Olympics is to continue "looking" presidential on the same stage as the President while attacking his economic policies that many blame for the continuing weak U.S. economy following the 2007 housing collapse.

  Many conservatives, mollified from their previous dissatisfaction with the ex Governor's prior unsteady performance have been buoyed by a renewed sense of vigor and focus by Romney heading into the final stretch of an historic political campaign amidst a rise in the polls stemming from his stellar first debate performance, and hoping for a "one-two" punch to deliver a total knockout of Obama. While the townhall format doesn't easily lend itself to the likelihood of this outcome, it is not impossible, but for Romney to be able to accomplish such a decisive win in this debate, (and overall election), he must at least do the following. 

1) Don't allow himself to be tarred with a "favor the rich" brush.

 While many of Romney's closest advisors, including his V.P. pick Paul Ryan at the Vice Presidential debate last Thursday, seem intent on "reassuring" the public that Republicans will insure any economic burdens of new fiscal or tax policies in a Romney Administration will fall only on the "richest" among us, we would suggest a different course.

 Instead of co-opting the President's class warfare approach, (albeit in a "kinder and gentler" way), why not directly refute it with something along the lines of Reagan's famous, "there you go again" response to Jimmy Carter in the 1980's?

 By responding with, "There you go again deflecting attention from your failed policies with the same tired class warfare rhetoric which pits Americans against Americans Mr. President," or, better yet, "What's wrong with working hard and becoming rich? My goal as President will be to institute policies that allow every American to reach their economic goals and become more wealthy," or, "With all due respect Mr. President, I know you've spent most of your life in the public sector as a politician and "community organizer," but I've had extensive business experience, and I'm here to tell you, I never got a job from a poor man!" or perhaps, "The fact of the matter Mr. President is that only the "rich" have the resources to open new factories and start the businesses so desperately needed for to create middle class jobs in our economy; if you penalize the so called "rich" with higher taxes what you are really doing is closing opportunities for the middle class to get much needed jobs that will help their own financial circumstances."

 Or Romney could even point out the well proven fact, (from the IRS' own figures!) that the top 10% of income earners in our society already pay almost 70% of all income taxes, perhaps followed by a quote from the President himself acknowledging that the last thing you want to do in a weak economy is to increase taxes on those who hold the key to job creation, those private entrepreneurs and investors who have been scared into inaction by the spectre of Obamacare, which the Supreme Court has ruled is, in fact, a tax on the middle class, rather than grow government as his administration has done, (a government by the way which can only waste and eat up jobs and wealth, not create them!)

 In short, instead of trying to blunt the Dems class warfare attacks by co-opting their premise, attack them directly at the root with a broad philosophical defense of the free enterprise system contrasted with the President's failed policies of socialism and Crony Capitalism, (Solyndra anyone?)

 In this regard it wouldn't be a bad idea to preempt the inevitable repetition of a line repeated incessantly by Joe Biden in the VP debate either, that Republicans want to "favor the Rich" by keeping the "Bush tax cuts," by pointing out it is the Democrats who want to raise taxes on everybody by blocking any straight up or down votes on these critical and impending tax increases in the new year absent plans that would drastically raise rates on "the rich" at a time when we need them to invest in the economy more than ever. I think you get the idea.

2) Don't allow the moderator to "frame" the debate against you without challenge.

 On this issue, Romney could take a page from Newt Gingrich's playbook. Even some on the left get annoyed at moderators who obstruct the candidates answers or have an obvious agenda, instead of letting the candidates speak for themselves. Does it mean they sometimes won't answer the question, or answer it exactly in the way some may want? Of course, but then that's left to the voters to determine if the candidate's answers pass muster or not, not the "moderator."

 It is interesting to note in this regard that the Presidential Debate Commission has received complaints from both campaigns that moderator Candy Crowley has seemingly revealed her intention to violate the format of the debate, intended in the town hall tradidition to be candidate and citizen directed, rather than a "from above" set of talking points dictated by a moderator. After the V.P. debate, and both prior debate moderators giving the Democratic candidate more time overall, this is a critical issue. Romney can neutralize any bias right off the bat by not allowing any grandstanding or unfair treatment to go unchallenged, or at least by refusing to be silenced when a rebuttal is needed. At times this may require interruption or stubbornly holding one's ground, and while certainly having some risks, if done right can be incredibly effective. Besides the media not being incredibly popular with the American people anyway, who intrinsically don't trust/like reporters, people want a leader they can believe in, and leaders don't allow themselves to get short shrift or unfairly "framed up" on an issue without responding to unfair characterizations of them or their position. (Romney did this excellently in the first debate, but moderator Crowley's comments this time around raise real cause for concern, so he needs to be prepared in this regard). If he can simply do this one thing he will exponentially raise his chances of winning.

3) While incredibly important to many, (including this author!) Romney needs to avoid getting bogged down in social issues or the "war on women" meme so strongly pushed by the White House, but again, don't shy away from a clear, forceful defense of traditional values. If attacked for being "pro-life" and/or Obama unfairly attempts to "tie" Congressmen Todd Akin's unfortunate comments about "legitimate rape," rebut such "guilt by association" attempts and point out that scare tactics regarding "rape and incest" or "life of the mother" are a complete canard by pointing out that such "exceptions" to the GOP opposition to abortion, while valid, make up only 2% of all abortions and that studies have shown that abortions for "life of the mother" are, with today's modern medicine, hardly ever medically necessary; If Obama tries to trumpet his radical homosexualization of the military or attack you as "intolerant" point out that the Administration's antagonism for traditional marriage was clearly pandering to Hollywood's liberal democratic donors and, more saliently, starkly contradictory to the President's own "pro traditional marriage" views in 2008.  Furthermore, regardless of one's position on "gay rights" in civil unions, it is the role of tyrants, not President's, to willfully refuse to enforce legitimately passed laws like the Clinton signed Defense of Marriage Act, and that such huge societal shifts of core values should not come at the expense of a "social experiment" on our armed forces and the freedom of conscience of millions of Americans of faith.

   It might also be helpful for Romney to have at the ready to counter the broad "anti women" brush the fact that as Governor Romney employed more women in key posts in the Massachusetts Governor's mansion than Obama has employed in his four years in the White House! (Or that Obama's economic policies have inordinately fallen on women, who have lost the most economically in Obama's economy).

4) Last but not least, Romney needs to have a ready answer for the expected "it's Bush's fault" on the economy, and point out that, while he may have inheritied difficulties, they were not as a result of Republican policies of "deregulation," but rather Democratic ones represented in such things as the Community Re-Investment Act which pushed the idea of home ownership for many in the inner cities and on the economic margins who simply couldn't afford to "own their own home," which caused the housing "bubble" to collapse.

   More to the point, if Obama becomes particularly obnoxious in his partisan attacks on the GOP on this issue, Romney shouldn't hesitate to point out that as an attorney Obama himself formerly represented clients who sued to force BOA and other big banks to in fact make such risky loans which played such a prominent role in contributing to the housing decline which led to the recession.

   Likewise Democratic talking points regarding the alleged notorious 47% video, (to which Romney should point out Obama's videos bragging about his desire to "redistribute" the wealth). Is it wishful thinking that Romney could point out that Obama's failed promises of "shovel ready jobs" which added almost a trillion dollars of "stimulus" debt to our children's children, were, even in his own admission, "not so shovel ready," or that the "too big to fail" premise of Dodd Frank actually guarantee more government bailouts in the future to the detriment of America's way of life and credit rating? (downgraded for the first time in history on Obama's watch!) Perhaps.

  Time would fail to go over every other possible issue, (from a strong defense to environmental policy, to domestic energy, which Romney seems to be doing well in of late), or to delineate how Romney can effectively respond to the most inevitable attacks on Republicans in general, and his personal character in particular, that Obama has so effectively "framed" him with in negative ads and will very likely repeat tonight. Nor is addressing every issue necessary for Romney to win. Indeed, if Romney can just effectively address the above issues, it should be sufficient to reveal Obama in his desperate bid to do or say anything to retain power in an election that, if the polls are to be believed, is slipping away from him. But Romney must not be afraid to provide a philosophical defense of GOP policies sufficient to rebut the inevitable and well worn attacks he knows are coming from Obama, (at least if he is going to make a persuasive case for change from the failed policies of the last four years). In short, he must go large and not be afraid to directly rebut Obama's premises.

If he doesn't, he will give Obama an unnecessary chance to get back in the game. If he does, I don't think anything, short of the Governor's complete meltdown at the last debate or other unforeseen circumstances in the final three weeks, will be able to stop Romney's roll to victory.

One thing's for sure; it will be interesting to watch! jp

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