The Debates: The Obama Campaign Has Already Been Given The Questions … And Other Things Romney Should Keep In Mind
1. The Debate Moderators are going to do all they feasibly can to help President Obama.
The Debate on Wednesday October 3rd is not going to be Mitt Romney versus Barack Obama, but really Mitt Romney versus Barack Obama and Jim Lehrer. The Vice-Presidential debate between Paul Ryan and Joe Biden on October 11th is going to be Paul Ryan versus Joe Biden and Martha Raddatz. Then it will be Obama and Candy Crowley teaming up against Governor Romney on October 16th, followed by Obama and Bob Schieffer versus Romney on October 22nd. These four people may truly endeavor to be as fair and as non-partisan as possible, but please make no mistake – they all are strong passionate supporters of President Obama who live and work in environments where virtually everyone they meet and interact with on a regular basis are also strong passionate, almost religious supporters of President Obama. This documented uniformity of views and the canine-level support for Obama in the elite institutions of the news media will influence which questions they decide to include or exclude in the debate and furthermore color the questions (premises, word choice, etc.) they do ask of each candidate. They would be under strong, even if not explicitly voiced out, pressure from their social circle of friends and colleagues (including the many who have left “journalism” to serve Barack Obama), and most dangerously, from themselves, to avoid areas where the President is vulnerable and focus their attention on areas where they believe the President can score the most points against Mitt Romney. To assume that they will be able to resist the pressure and temptation would be foolish.
2. There is no less than a 50/50 chance that the Obama Campaign shall receive or has already received advance copies of the Debate Questions.
The likelihood is significantly higher that it will be a younger, more junior member of the Moderators’ staff on his own initiative that will fire off the email, fax or make a phone call to Chicago than the Moderator him/herself … but it is not so much significantly higher that the possibility can be safely dismissed that it could be the Lehrer, Raddatz, Crowley or Scheiffer (or a cutout – that junior member of staff) calling to have a friendly chat with Obama campaign officials. Again, recall the massive number of people in the national news media who have taken leaves of absence to serve the Obama Administration – the call need not be to Plouffe, Messina, Cutter, Jarrett, Axelrod et al. Either way, make no mistake; an obviously large majority of people staffing the newsrooms, editorial and executive suites of the nation’s major news houses have made the moral calculus that the re-election of Barack Obama is worth any sacrifice of ethics or integrity they and their institution might have. In fact, the majority may even consider it immoral, even unpatriotic, for them not to actively do what they personally can to throw the election to Obama. So my advice to the Romney Campaign is for the Governor (and Paul Ryan) to go into each debate assuming that Obama already knows every question coming his way and has already practiced the perfect poll-tested answer for each and every single one. Second, assume also that the Obama Campaign was actively involved in the setting of the questions Mitt Romney would be asked to answer – which leads us to …
3. The Debate Questions Mitt Romney will be asked to answer will overwhelmingly, or all, be “Wedgies.”
“Wedgies” are questions designed to drive a wedge between a candidate and a segment/demographic of the electorate. A perfect wedgie puts the target in a position where his answers will either outrage and motivate his opponent’s supporters and/or disappoint and demoralize his base of supporters while at the same time drive fence-sitters and leaners away from him and toward his opponent. To be sure, wedgies are not by themselves always unfair or illegitimate, and often they bring clarity to a debate. However, we can be certain that in the upcoming debates, the moderators will do their best to make sure Obama is not put into such a position while Romney will have to confront a multitude of wedgies. In anticipating these questions, the Romney Campaign has to assume that the Obama campaign and/or people who desperately want Obama re-elected (such as Lehrer, Crowley, Scheiffer and Raddatz) are setting the questions, and they should develop answers to them that not only neutralize them, but turn them into platforms for a counter-attack – this will often neccessarily include challenging the premise of the question and/or shifting the focus of the question to more advantageous ground where Romney can bring the failed Obama record and extreme views vividly into the picture for the viewers at home. Off the top of my head, based on current events, I anticipate wedgies (accompanied by practiced furrowed brows of concern) on; Abortion (and Todd Akin), Same Sex marriage, Immigration (and Arizona SB1040), Affirmative Action (and Fisher vs. University of Texas), Voter ID Laws, Right-to-Work Laws (Wisconsin). Again, it is not illegitimate to ask questions on these issues, what is illegitimate is to only ask such questions of one side.
4. The “fact-checkers” are going to put Romney under a special microscope of withering scrutiny.
The news media’s celebrated “fact-checkers” have proven themselves to be among the most partisan, shameless and fundamentally dishonest people in journalism today. They will not change for the better when it comes to the debates. In fact, it is an absolute certainty that the day after the debate will see them descend on every Romney statement whether true or false, and they will nitpick, redefine and create strawmen to ensure that he gets as many “Pinnochios” or “Pants on Fire” ratings as they can. There is no possibility that any of President Obama’s statements will receive anywhere near the same level of scrutiny, and clearly false Obama statements will be spun and recast to minimize any damage to his campaign. It is therefore extremely important that the Romney campaign establish a post-debate strategy to counter the “fact-checkers”. My recommendation is simple; respond to every “fact-check” with a thorough debunking on the campaign website and mail to all supporters and every major news outlet. Second, and almost as important, produce a video “fact-check” of President Obama’s debate statements with facts, figures and graphs to back it up and put it on YouTube, link to it on facebook and also mail links to supporters and members of the Press.