Townhall settings are tricky. Questions can be off the wall, and it too often turns into a "panderfest" designed to see who can most acutely (or most demonstratively) "feel the pain" of those assembled. In this environment, it's Governor Romney's challenge to make sure that he comes across as the decent, likable man he is, while still keeping pressure on President Obama in the same respectful but tough manner he used at their previous debate. A few other points:
(1) We're hearing a lot about the women's vote. Women aren't turned off by a man who acts like a man (in the best sense). They're turned off by men who act like jerks or like wimps. They're turned off by men who are arrogant, nasty, or unable to admit foibles or flaws. They're suckers for true and witty self-deprecating humor (though not in the "Humblebrag" manner of President Obama, e.g., "My problem? I'm too polite!"). Romney needn't worry about being tough, so long as he's impersonal (in other words, it's not about Obama the person; it's about Obama the president). Please no cringe-inducing moments from the Romney's reminiscent of President Obama calling his wife "sweetie" from the podium last time. It's so transparently a ploy to ingratiate oneself with women.
(2) Given Romney's thoroughness and the apparent excellence of his debate prep, no doubt this next point has already been covered. Obama's big play seems to be to claim that a Romney presidency will only be George W. Bush redux -- to believe Biden, all a President Romney would do is start wars and run up the deficit (with breathtaking hypocrisy, these are actually their claims!). Romney needs a smart way to assure people this is not the case -- without dumping unfairly on President Bush. Let's hope he and his debate wizards have thought about this . . most Romney surrogates don't have a sufficiently pithy come-back when Democrats start this stuff.
(3) Benghazi is a minefield -- not just for Obama. It would be wrong for Romney to use an American tragedy as compaign fodder, and terrible if he gives that perception; obviously, that's an impression the Obama people are desperate to promote. Best if Romney is aware (as he doubtless is) that the two big talking points emanating from the administration are: (a) No one cares more about this matter than the President; and (b) an investigation is underway. But if it's done carefully and respectfully, it does seem fair for Romney to ask Obama a few questions to which the President clearly knows the answers without waiting for an investigation, though: Did he meet with his national security team before jetting off to a fundraiser in Vegas on 9/12? When did he actually learn that the attacks had nothing to do with the YouTube movie? Those are simple questions. The President knows the answers. Why won't he tell us? Isn't it a leader's job to be straight with the American people, even when there's been a massive debacle like this one? Aren't the American people entitled to the answers?
(4) Point out every Obama effort to distract, and his failure to lay out any plans. So far, thanks to his friends in the press, Obama has gotten away without laying out any second term agenda other than trying to raise taxes on "the rich." When he presses Romney about the details in his plans, point out that even sympathetic journalists have noticed that he's offered nothing that would help accelerate job growth. And when Obama inevitably lunges for the 47% digs or the tax returns, highlight that it's just one more example of the President trying to distract from his own record of failure and plans for nothing but more of the same. Maybe even point out that all the money he spent on negative ads might more profitably been used to lay out and explain his own vision for the next four years, rather than trashing his oponent.
Obviously, the press is desperate to write an "Obama comes back!!!" story after the debate. Romney's challenge is, quite simply, to make sure that spin can't be credibly imposed on Americans and to provide no "big gaffe moment" that will be replayed and relayed endlessly on social media.
One more thing: I have confidence in Candy Crowley. I think she is one of the fairest moderators out there. I predict she may be tough, but unlike Martha Raddatz -- with her 31 interruptions of Ryan compared to 19 of Biden -- she will be tough on both sides equally. What's more, she won't put up with the kind of nonsense Biden tried to pull.
And Romney is far more prepared for a moderator digging into the weeds than Obama is.
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