Both President Obama and Mitt Romney are preparing for the first debate Wednesday. Dozens of surrogates are preparing people for a miserable performance from their candidate. The idea is that if the candidate does not drool all over his tie, he can be declared the winner. It is not clear why they bother. People will watch the debate and decide what they think based on what they see, not based on how low the candidate's spinners have managed to set the bar.
Team Romney has announced it has some real zingers it is going to hurl at Obama. In contrast, Obama said he is going to be serious and not aim for clever sound bites. But as every comedian knows all too well, good comedy requires not only good lines, but a sense of timing and pacing—qualities that Romney is not known for. If his lines fall flat, he is going to become fodder for the late-night comedians, who do have good stage presence. Even more-or-less-serious pundits are already suggesting zingers. The last thing Romney needs is to have his performance be judged on how clever his lines were and whether he delivered them well. He has to remember that he is auditioning to replace Barack Obama, not Jay Leno.
Chris Cillizza has some comments about what to expect. First, in the primary debates, it was like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, with Romney on stage with a bunch of buffoons. This time he has a well-prepared and highly knowledgeable opponent who also has the prestige of the presidency. He is going to be outside his comfort zone. Second, Romney desperately needs a big win; Obama can settle for a workmanlike performance showing that he knows the country has problems but he is a serious person working his tail off to fix things in the face of an obstructionist Congress. Third, in the primary debates, Romney was being hit from all sides by multiple people. He could choose who to answer and who to ignore. That won't work this time.