Debates

First Round to Romney

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and President Barack Obama, right, debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. How could Barack Obama have been so feeble a debater? Mitt Romney gave him one opening after another, but Obama stuck closely to prescripted talking points. Romney’s strategy, as it has been throughout the campaign, was to lie, and for the most part Obama failed to call him on it. Romney essentially disavowed the tax and budget plan he has been running on for eighteen months, claiming that it was possible to cut tax rates and make up the difference by closing loopholes. Obama correctly pointed out that the arithmetic didn’t work. But Obama failed to challenge Romney to identify just which loopholes he would close. On Social Security and Medicare, Romney gave Obama another opening that the president failed to maximize. Romney said that nobody at or near retirement...

Debate Prep, the Domestic Policy Round

(AP Photos)
The first of three presidential debates will take place today at the University of Colorado in Denver and focus on domestic policy. Here's a list of the best pieces we've published about each candidate's domestic-policy agenda. Economy (AP Photo/David Goldman) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign event at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, Monday, October 1, 2012, in Denver. Obama Obama's Squandered Economy , Rich Yeselson Is Obama Too Calm Before the Storm? , Tim Fernholz Barack Obama's Theory of Power , Robert Kuttner Romney Mitt Romney, Servant of the Right , Jamelle Bouie Why "Knowing How the Economy Works" Is Not Enough , Paul Waldman Health Care (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) In this March 23, 2010 file photo, President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Care Act in the East Room of the White House in Washington. When you vote in November 2012, you'll be voting for more than a president; you'll be...

How Debates Matter

Flickr/Natalie Maynor
Yesterday, John Sides wrote about some interesting studies exploring the effect the media have on voter perceptions of presidential debates. One experiment showed that when you expose people to post-debate commentary, it significantly alters their perception of who won the debate. This is something researchers have known about at least since 1976, when the public at first didn't see Gerald Ford's "gaffe" about Eastern Europe not being under Soviet domination as any big deal (apparently, they realized he was speaking more aspirationally than anything else). Immediately after the debate polls showed the public evenly split on who had won, but after a few days of coverage of the "gaffe," the polls shifted dramatically, with many more people saying Carter had won. As I've pointed out many times, what persists in our memory about presidential debates are only those moments reporters choose to keep reminding us about (I wrote about it in this book —still relevant eight years later!). But...

You're Not in the Debate Minor Leagues Now, Mitt

Mitt Romney and friends, pledging.
In the year-long game of attrition that led to his nomination to the Republican presidential ticket, Mitt Romney participated in over 20 debates with his primary opponents. A look back at those debates demonstrates many of the things that will hold Romney in good stead during his debates with Barack Obama: his ability to construct lengthy yet coherent answers to questions, his disciplined repetition of talking points, and his delivery of practiced zingers, to name a few. One also sees a candidate with vulnerabilities, particularly his tendency to stumble when under attack and forced to improvise. Some of his worst mistakes—offering to bet Rick Perry $10,000 to settle a quibble about what was in the book Romney wrote, or explaining how he told his landscaper, "you can't have any illegals working on our property. I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals"—came during those high-stress moments. But Romney's greatest challenge may lie in appreciating the difference...

Be Like Bill

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa) President Bill Clinton and Bob Dole prepare for opening remarks at their first presidential debate in Hartford, Connecticut on October 6, 1996. W hen President Obama and Mitt Romney stride onto the stage at the University of Denver tonight, there will be a dramatic contrast between the former law school professor and the former private-equity executive. Whichever candidate is best prepared to play the hero in this drama will win tonight and, most likely, on Election Night. Whoever merely memorizes zingers or crams for a quiz show may as well start drafting a concession speech. Debate-prep is stagecraft. Bill Clinton understood this, and as a campaign speechwriter, I saw him perform masterfully. Of the other two nominees I worked for, Michael Dukakis prepared for policy seminars—not debates—with predictable results, while Walter Mondale rehearsed, stealthily but skillfully, for the one memorable moment when he upstaged the Gipper. While devouring the briefing...

Why Don't the Debates Matter?

(AP/Pablo Martinez and Evan Vucci)
(AP/Pablo Martinez and Evan Vucci) Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on the campaign trail in Ohio. On the question of whether presidential debates matter in the outcome of the election, the research is clear—they don’t. A quick look at decades of Gallup polling shows little change in the election after the debates, and political scientists find that “the best prediction from the debates is the initial verdict before the debates.” Put another way, if you want to know how the race will look after the debates, pay attention to what it looks like before the debates. At most, there are two instances where you could plausibly say that the debates mattered for the election: the 1960 debates between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy, and the lone 1980 debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. And even then, this had more to do with the unique circumstances of both elections than it did with anything intrinsic to the debates. To be fair to those who see these encounters as crucial events in the...

To the Spin Room!

A primary debate spin room, only a fraction as busy as what we'll see in Denver. (Flickr/WEBN-TV)
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be debating on Wednesday night, and as Michael Calderone tells us , an absolutely incredible 3,000 journalists will be trooping out to Denver to be there when it happens. They won't actually be in the hall, though. They'll be in a nearby gym, watching it on TV like everyone else. But after the debate ends, they'll decamp to the "spin room, where partisans will dispense utterly predictable remarks on what just happened. "Governor Romney hit it out of the park, while President Obama couldn't justify his failures," a Romney staffer will say. "President Obama hit it out of the park, while Mitt Romney only reinforced the doubts the American people have about him," an Obama staffer will say. "Ooo, that's fascinating—give me more of your interpretation of what I just saw, campaign staffer," no one in the world will say. Calderone asks one relevant question—Should they bother? (Answer: No)—but I'd like to address another couple: Why do they do it in the first...

How Obama Beats Romney

(AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
DENVER, COLORADO —By the time his motorcade pulled up to Magness Arena on the campus of the University of Denver at 6:40 local time Wednesday evening, October 3, the president knew he had 20 minutes to make a decision. The campaign of his opponent, Governor Mitt Romney, had so deteriorated that, for his part, Barack Obama understood there was a sound argument on behalf of running out the clock and not taking any great risks. The president is typically a prudent man, right up until the moment he does something notably risky, such as ordering the mission that killed Osama bin Laden in spite of virtually all of his inner circle advising against it (except CIA Director Leon Panetta). Now, with only moments until the debate began, the president could anticipate what might well be moderator Jim Lehrer’s opening question, for which the Obama campaign had prepared an innocuous response, counting on the near certainty that Governor Romney would offer a response even more useless. But another,...

Will Wednesday Be a Game Changer? That's Debatable.

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
(AP Photo) Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts, rivals for the presidency, engaged in an informal discussion in the television studio in Washington on October 8, 1960, after going off the air on their nation televised debate. Nixon holds a handkerchief in his hand as he talks with Kennedy. The debate was the second in the pre-elect series to discuss campaign issues. T he first debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be Wednesday at 9 p.m. Eastern. To get everyone ready, we answer some questions you may have. How did we get here? For most of American history, the idea of two presidential candidates debating was unheard of, though candidates for lesser offices did debate. James Madison and James Monroe traveled Virginia together debating for a House seat in 1788, and of course Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated during their 1858 Senate campaign, though the Lincoln-Douglas debates resembled a pair of speeches much more than the debates...

Pages